The Penn State Blue Band

Image from The Athletic

Most girls first pick up the baton when they are in grade school. They spend four or five hours per day in the gym. They pay for private lessons, technique classes, tumbling classes and stretching lessons. They travel with their competitive team that performs multiple routines and then go home and practice with their school team, also memorizing and acting out multiple routines. They sacrifice their social life, their finances and sometimes their education in hopes of earning an invitation to perform on a Big Ten team like Penn State’s Touch of Blue.

The Penn State Blue Band is recognized as one of the nation’s finest college marching bands. Before the pandemic, earning a spot on the team meant undergoing an audition that went from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The hopeful twirlers learned a new routine and would perform it for Blue Band staff members at the end of the 13-hour day.

A message saying that they earned a spot on the elite team is all they have ever hoped for. Most girls can show you a family photo of their grandmother wearing the same uniform they hope to wear, tell the tale of their parents meeting through the Blue Band or have grown up saying they wanted to be the Blue Sapphire. The dream to be a teammate on the Blue Band is one that these members are born with. Their sport is a fundamental part of who they are. So, when a lawsuit went public exposing the systematic abuse and manipulation within the Touch of Blue, many of the girls were asked why they didn’t just quit when things got bad—why they didn’t quit everything they ever have known and loved. Would you give up on your dream?

Kaitlyn Wassel filed suit versus the Pennsylvania State University which alleged that she was subject to sexual and gender harassment from majorette coach Heather Bean from 2018-2022, which led her to an attempted suicide in March 2021. Wassel made the complaint that Penn State officials were made aware of multiple claims of harassment under Bean from 2018-2022 but chose to ignore allegations and therefore allowed Bean to remain as coach. Bean and another coach soon resigned.

On March 4, Penn State dismissed the prejudice claim, saying “Wassel fails to plead the essential element of any Title IX claim, i.e., that the alleged discrimination was on the basis of sex.” Penn State also said that Wassel failed to plead conduct that the alleged hostile environment deprived her of educational opportunities and that she failed to establish that the university’s response was ‘clearly unreasonable.’

Systemic abuse has run rampant throughout the Blue Band, specifically the majorettes, for quite some time, according to anonymous sources. Slut-shaming, body-shaming, manipulation tactics, bullying, threats and more were constants in the competitive environment of the band, resulting in many complaints made to the staff well before the lawsuit was publicized. These girls were abused and harassed so extremely that many sought out therapy, yet they refused to quit the team, explains the sources. These girls yearned and sacrificed for their dream and now it sits in the palm of their calloused hand, while abusers and bullies pathetically try to swipe it away. The word that keeps coming up in VALLEY’s conversation with the anonymous sources is “disappointing.” The lack of accountability from the publicly adored higher-ups is disappointing. It is disappointing that all Penn State can do is say that Wassel’s claim does not reach Title IX standards. It is disappointing that both Bean and another coach resigned, rather than got fired, so they are free to walk onto any team they want and abuse their power just the same.


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