A Life Well Lived

by David Saggio

Ted Sebastianelli was born in Scranton Pennsylvania in 1947, a second-generation Italian-American.  His parents were Edward T. and Marion Sebastianelli. Ted’s immigrant grandfather and uncles were hard coal miners.  He grew up in Peckville and went to Blakely High School where he starred playing football. Upon graduating from Blakely, he accepted a full scholarship to play football at The Pennsylvania State University. He was a member of the team from 1965 until his graduation from Penn State in 1969. Upon graduation Ted joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard (PAANG), serving from 1970 to his retirement in 2004. Ted returned to State College in 1983 and moved into his current residence in the Highlands in 1991. He resides there with his wife Margaret.  Throughout his life Ted was always a member of a team, from football to the ANG and to the community. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ted and hearing his story.

Penn State Football 1965-1969:

Ted began his football career at Penn State in fall of 1965. In high school, Ted showcased his talent during the Big 33 game against Texas. The “Big 33” game was an all-star game essentially pitting the best football players in the states of Texas and Pennsylvania against each other. Ted played linebacker his first two years then moved then moved to center his junior year.  Due to college football rules at the time freshmen were ineligible, so Ted competed with Penn State’s freshmen team, playing against West Virginia and Pitt. On this game Ted had to say, “it turns out Pitt didn’t even have enough players to even play the game, so we ended up playing a bunch of kids from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.” Ted also noted that among his teammates were two future College Football Hall of Famers, Mike Reid and Ted Kwalick.

Ted’s sophomore year started in fall of 1966 when a new, yet familiar, face became the head coach of the Nittany Lions–Joe Paterno.  Longtime head coach Rip Engle had resigned at the end of the 1965 season, passing the reins to Paterno. Paterno had played quarterback for Engle at Brown University and then followed him to Penn State as an assistant coach. After being assistant for 15 years, Paterno was named the successor to Engle. According to Ted, “Joe had his way of doing things.” Paterno built a unique culture and atmosphere while at Penn State. During Paterno’s first year as head coach the team went 5-5 with the team being “beaten several times by pretty good teams,” according to Ted. Most of these losses were to bowl-eligible teams like the first-ranked Michigan State Spartans, who finished the season ranked second and with a national championship claim after a tie with consensus national champions Notre Dame. Other losses were against the fourth-ranked UCLA Bruins and fifth-ranked Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. [1]

In Ted’s third year, 1967, the team went through a transformation. The players opened the season with a close road loss at Navy where “the slow and tired looking defense broke down, and Navy stung the Lions, 23-22.”  To Ted, this close loss changed something in the players, they knew they had to be tougher down the stretch in order to close out games.  Paterno knew this too and said this to his team before their matchup with the Miami Hurricanes, “Even if you can’t sleep, get off your feet, it’s going to be hot and humid, and we can’t afford to be tired tonight.”  The heat was indeed a factor in this matchup, with it being 84 degrees on September 29tth 1967.  Ted recalls this as being the one game he can remember when Penn State did not warm up in pads. [2]

Despite these conditions, this game “really turned things around for Penn State in those years,” Ted reflected.  The team went on to beat the University of Miami by a score of 17-8. [3] The players hoped to carry this road victory success into their next game against fourth ranked UCLA Bruins, who were led by quarterback Gary Beban. Beban was the best player in college football at the time, winning the 1967 Heisman Trophy. Even with the momentum from the Miami victory, Penn State lost to the Bruins 17-15. Despite this loss, Penn State won the remainder of their games in the 1967 season, ending the year with a Gator Bowl tie against the Florida State Seminoles on December 30th 1967.

During Ted’s senior year in the 1968 season, Penn State resumed its winning streak. The Nittany Lions started the season ranked tenth and finished ranked third in the nation. The Nittany Lions did not expect to find themselves undefeated, particularly Paterno, who said in his “Quote of the Year,” “We’re not gonna win them all–not with our schedule.[4] Of particular note in the 1968 season was Penn State’s triumph over the sixth ranked Kansas Jayhawks in the Orange Bowl. Headlines read “A Bowl Win, an Undefeated Season, a Dream Fulfilled”. The Jayhawks made multiple mental errors throughout the game including a “mysterious 12th man (who) may serve as a scapegoat for other Kansas mistakes, like the decision to go for a first down rather than a field goal in the fourth quarter.”   The New Year’s win—by a score of 15-14 –clearly had a profound effect on the team and the university, with much adulation across campus. [5]

To Ted, the success of Penn State football during the late 60’s served as a catalyst for many players choosing to come to Penn State during the 70’s. “What’s nice for somebody like me who was around then, [was] to talk to some of the kids who ended up playing on very good teams in the 70’s, they were watching those games and it made Penn State something they were very interested in attending.” Among these notable players was John Cappelletti, Penn State’s sole Heisman Trophy winner.

Life as a  Student in the 1960’s:

Ted was not just a football player at Penn State, as being a student athlete involved much more than the game. When Ted first arrived at Penn State in fall of 1965, the United States was in the midst of one of its most tumultuous decades. The Vietnam War was ongoing, the threat of the Soviet Union was constant, and Americans were fighting for equality.

However, Penn State was not a hub of major student demonstrations during this time.  There was a branch of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) on campus, an African American students’ group (the Douglass Association) carrying out protests, and these and other student protest groups united in spring 1969 through the Steering Committee to Reform the University—but the level of activism was not close to that attained at a school like the University of California at Berkeley. In 1966 the Undergraduate Student Government president Robert Katzenstein observed that the typical Penn State student is “passive, conscientious, law abiding, responsible, and ultraconservative.” Similar to the students described by Katzenstein, Ted did not feel the need to engage in political and social activism. [6]

His life as a student fit the “standards” he set out for himself and that coach Paterno set for his players. He was a member of a team and community as he would be throughout most of his life. Ted’s apolitical orientation was common amongst the members of the football team as well. They had a job to do in winning games and maintaining good grades for eligibility, anything else was largely outside noise that distracted them.

This is not to say they did not have social lives and other interests.  A particularly fond hangout spot for Ted and his teammates was Home Delivery Pizza in State College. The owner took good care of the footballers.  Ted and others oftentimes showed their appreciation by helping to deliver pizzas and subs on campus. [7]

Air National Guard 1971-2004:

Ted was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Air National Guard on February 22, 1971.  He completed Officer Training School in San Antonio, Texas, one of the 500 soon-to-be Second Lieutenants the school produced every six weeks. 

His job in the ANG was Air Weapons Controller (AWC).  As an AWC, Ted was responsible for communicating and directing combat aircraft in the air combat zone of his responsibility (such as providing air intercept information to fighters via radar to direct the pilots to their target).  He also provided information to fighter pilots and airborne tankers so they could link up for refueling. The job of an AWC is essential for the successful deployment of military airpower. Without such crucial information, pilots would be flying blind, unable to know the location of enemies and friendlies and would have to rely on their own radars and eyes. Being able to provide accurate information to pilots allows them to successfully perform their jobs and in turn helps get them back to base. 

Ted’s first contract in the Air Guard lasted six years. During this time he had an active duty tour at Fort Monroe, Virginia, with the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at Langley AFB.  His time at Fort Monroe was instrumental in changing Ted’s military life, as Ted explained that the training at Monroe was “something he really thoroughly enjoyed.”  He took part in Operation Ready Eagle, training with F-15 fighters as they prepared to deploy to West Germany. The F-15 was the state-of-the-art fighter in the U.S. Air Force that had entered service on January 9, 1976—about the time when Ted was stationed at Fort Monroe. After his stint there, Ted joined the Aggressor program at Nellis AFB, Nevada, in 1977, where he participated in Red Flag Exercises. It was here he was better known by his tactical call sign, “Rocket”. Ted explained his part in the Exercises this way: “You’re involved in massive air battles, which were a lot of fun for me.” 

After these timely training opportunities, and with his promotion to the rank of Captain, Ted decided to make the ANG a career. He saw further deployments to Europe and the Caribbean. While in Europe he took part in joint NATO training missions with the Italian Air Force as a liaison officer.  During his off time there, Ted travelled to his grandfather’s, his Nonno’s, hometown of Pascelupo.  There he was able to find and visit his grandfather’s home and recovered a family heirloom, which he brought home to his grandmother, his Nonna.  Ted’s unit, the 112th Air Control Squadron, State College, was very active in the Counter Drug operations with deployments to the Bahamas and eventually, the jungles of Columbia. Ted concluded this about the Counter Drug operations: “It was great to be in the Bahamas but [the deployments] really didn’t work.”  

During the 1990s, Ted was a Lt. Colonel and Commander of the 112th Air Control Squadron, Ted hired Lieutenant Brian Lehew fulltime in 1994. Ted put a lot of trust in Lehew, making him Chief of Standard Evaluation “something that didn’t happen” to a young officer.  This proved to be the start of a very successful career for Lehew, as he now serves as the Commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Pittsburgh.  Colonel Lehew recalls Ted’s style as a Commander as building upon his days at Penn State, “whenever he’d try to talk to us or motivate us, he’d throw football analogies in, like buckle your chinstrap.” [8]

Following his military retirement in 2004, Ted rounded out his civil service career as Deputy HR Director for the Military District of Washington, Fort McNair DC.  He thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of his job there with the Joint Force Headquarters, National Capital Region as an Air Force civilian.  Ted often spent free time at Arlington National Cemetery.  Section 60 of Arlington is the burial place of servicemembers killed during the post 9/11 “War on Terror.”  During one of his visits there, Ted describes with much emotion finding five half-smoked cigars resting near the gravestone of a young Marine killed in action, no doubt his fellow Marines having left them in his honor. Ted retired from the Civil Service in 2007, officially bringing his career to a close. 

Ted returned to State College for the first time in 1983.   He and his wife bought their current residence in 1991. Their home is constructed from original Old Main stone and was built in the 1930s. He and Margaret live there with their beloved dogs, Enzo and Willa.  Margaret and Ted both owned condos at Toftrees and met on the golf course in January 1989. They were both walking their dogs, Primo and Hannah, at the time, through knee high snow when the dogs decided to introduce each other, and ever since then the two have been together.

Life Now

Ted & Margaret Sebastianelli (with Enzo & Willa )

Today Ted serves as an active member of the Penn State community. In the Highlands, he is a member of Neighbor-to-Neighbor (N2N) program.  The organization pairs a Highlands house with a fraternity house in close proximity.  N2N’s goal is to establish harmonious contact between fraternities and their nearby residents.

Ted and his wife Margaret have done this, working closely with Pi Kappa Alpha, and over time they have developed many good friendships with the young men in the fraternities.  The Sebastianellis always enjoy hearing from former students returning for Penn State Homecomings.

Ted still maintains a close relationship with the Penn State football both past and present.  As his colleague Colonel Lehew noted: “He has that sideline mentality.”  To this day that still holds true. 


[1] Ted Sebastianelli, David Saggio, 5th, September, 2021. State College Pa.

[2] “Miami, FL Weather historystar_ratehome.” Weather Underground, https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/us/fl/miami/KMIA/date/1967-9-29 .Online(October 2nd 2021,)

[3] Paul Levine, “Lion Surprise Miami, 17-8.” The Daily Collegian, 30 Sept. 1967, pg. 8. Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive, https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn85054904/1967-09-30/ed-1/;  Online(October 2nd 2021,)

[4] Ron Kolb. “They Had Something To Say In a Big, Speechless Way.” The Daily Collegian, 7 Jan. 1969, pg. 9. Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive, (29th September 2021), https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn85054904/1969-01-07/ed-1/seq-2/. Online (29th September 2021)

[5] “A Bowl Win, an Undefeated Season, a Dream Fulfilled.” The Daily Collegian, 7 Jan. 1969, pg. 1. Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive, https://panewsarchive.psu.edu/lccn/sn85054904/1969-01-07/ed-1/seq-1/. Online (25th September 2021)

[6] Bezilla Michael. “Years of Crises: the 1960s.” Penn State: An Illustrated History, 1985 (Pennsylvania State Univ. Press, University Park, 1985).  

[7].     Ted Sebastianelli, David Saggio, 2nd, December, 2021, State College,Pa..

[8]      Lehew, Brian, David Saggio. 15, September, 2021, State College, Pa.

David Saggio is currently a Senior at Penn State University majoring in journalism and minoring in history. During his time at Penn State David has been an active member of World In Conversation having dialogues with people from across the globe on real world issues. David hopes to travel the world and see as much of it as he can, from its darkest corners to brightest peaks. He hopes to do this then settle down in his native New Jersey and spend more time down the shore. If you would like to contact David with any questions or comments he can be reached at davesag12@gmail.com.