Dunmorean of the Month: Alyssa Bielinski

Dunmore’s Alyssa Bielinski helps raise $13.7 million as director for Penn State’s THON

By Steve Svetovich

Dunmore graduate Alyssa Bielinski served as director of Pennsylvania State University’s THON that raised $13.7 million last month for Four Diamonds Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey.

“The money was raised so families of children in this hospital do not have to worry about a bill,” the 2018 Dunmore graduate said. “The money will also be used for funds and research.”

Alyssa, 22, put in countless hours of time and effort to help raise money over the past year.

THON was held Feb. 18 to 20 at Penn State at State College. The event was held for 46 consecutive hours with students standing or dancing the entire time to raise money for the cause.

THON 2022 marked its return to the Bryce Jordan Center with its highest fund-raising total to date.

Last year’s THON was forced to go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving behind a filled Bryce Jordan Center for a Zoom live stream where dancers participated from home.

THON 2022: Spark Endless Light celebrated its 50th anniversary and a return to the Bryce Jordan Center. THON 2022 shattered the 2014 record by raising $13,756,374.50 to combat childhood cancer.

There were some changes this year due to the pandemic. Children with active cancer treatment were not able to attend. All attendees had to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

In 1973, 78 dancers stood for 30 hours in the first Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon at the HUB-Robeson Center, raising about $2,000 for charity.

Since then, it has evolved into the world’s largest student-run philanthropy and has raised more than $200 million to combat pediatric cancer.

The Penn State IFC/Penhellenic Dance Marathon or THON is a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by cancer. Its mission is to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness, and ensure funding for critical research – all in pursuit of a cure.

Students, volunteers and Four Diamonds families joined together at the Bryce Jordan Center for 46 hours. The volunteers gave children and their families the opportunity to forget their cancer diagnosis. Close to 700 students were recognized as dancers for THON Weekend, a feat that entails standing on their feet for the entirety of the weekend.

Daughter of AnnMarie Bielinski, Alyssa has volunteered for THON since her freshman year at Penn State. She was named Special Events Director this year as a senior. She was previously on the rules and regulation committee.

Well-spoken and articulate, Alyssa is a senior Rehab and Human Services major. She has a 3.7 grade point average at Penn State.

Alyssa graduated seventh in her class at Dunmore High School where she attained a 97 academic average. She was a member of TACT, SADD, Spanish Club, Earth Club and National Honor Society. She played four years of softball and was captain as a first baseman in her senior year.

Her plan after college graduation is to work in the non-profit development field of human services. She would like to add an internship before she enters the work world.

She said her experience with THON has been fulfilling. “It has been absolutely amazing,” she said. “You really grow as a person and it prepares you for life after college. You meet so many people and it is very rewarding. You get to hear and share so many stories. It is an awesome experience.

“I go to a lot of weekly meetings and lead a committee of 18 captains. There are 109 committee members. Special Events Director is a full year effort.”

This year’s event started at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, and concluded at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 20.

Alyssa said emergency medical staff and athletic trainers were on standby for the dancers.

“This is a year-round effort for me,” she said. “We are involved in events to raise money throughout the entire year.”

Mature beyond her young years, Alyssa said THON partners with the Penn State football team, holds a 5K run with over 3,000 runners in October, and runs a family carnival in December, among other charitable functions.

“The THON Weekend is our visible event, but my job is to continue with events year-round.

“This was a record-breaking year. It was so humbling to see all of this emotional support coming back. We contacted a lot of organizations and raised so much money through our fund-raising efforts.

“This has been such an amazing experience. I have built so many wonderful relationships through this over the past four years.

“It is such an experience that I can not even measure its worth. It will certainly help prepare me for life beyond college.”

Dunmorean of the Month: Jeff Mallas

By Steve Svetovich

Dunmore’s Jeff Mallas and Penn State Scranton have gone hand in hand for the past 42 years.

Mallas, a 1971 Dunmore High graduate who lettered in track and football,, has been a major part of the athletic department at the Scranton Penn State campus, located on Ridgeview Drive, Dunmore, since 1979. 

He has served as athletic director since 2000. In 2018, Mallas received the prestigious Robert J. Scannell Roll of Honor Award at University Park. The honor is bestowed upon an athletics administrator, coach, faculty or staff member who has served Penn State Commonwealth Campus athletics, intramurals and recreation programs with distinction.

Below is an excerpt from Mallas’ nomination, submitted by athletic department staff at Scranton:

“If there is one person at Penn State Scranton who truly ‘Bleeds Blue and White’ it’s Athletic Director, Jeff Mallas.  As a 1975 graduate of Penn State University, Jeff has been a strong supporter of Penn State and athletics, serving the university through non-profit work, coaching, teaching, and administration.” 

He was the assistant athletic director under Joe Simoncelli from 1980 through 1999. “I learned a lot under Joe Simoncelli,” he said. “You learn from good people. He was my cross country coach and advisor when I attended Penn State Scranton as a freshman.”

Mallas is married 35 years to the former Karen Phillips. The couple has a son, Doug, a 2012 Penn State graduate who teaches biology at North Pocono High School. 

Mallas is credited with starting the baseball program at Penn State Scranton in 1981. He coached baseball at the Dunmore campus for 25 years. 

Penn State Scranton’s athletic director Jeff Mallas, center, is shown in 2018 receiving the Robert J. Scannell Honor Roll Award at University Park. Shown with him are Maureen Cooper, left, and Ryan Ehrie, right.

He named Dunmore graduate Dave Rubino, Dwayne Broad of Mid Valley and Kevin Yanul and Jerry Calpin of Scranton Tech as a few of his key players on the first Penn State Scranton baseball team in 1981. 

“Our home games were initially played at Schautz Stadium in Dunmore,” he said. “We used to practice at Weston Field. 

“In 1982 and 1983 I helped put our baseball field together at the school. Herb Rogers, the Penn State Scranton maintenance foreman at the time, did most of the work. He was the expert. I helped put the infield in. The Army Corps of Engineers did the landscaping.

“Of course our baseball field was totally renovated a few years ago and was named after Matt McGloin.

“Gino Tempesta of Dunmore, who still coaches baseball at North Pocono, helped me coach baseball for many years. He was great with the kids and a huge asset.” 

Mallas, always enthusiastic and an optimist when it comes to Penn State, also coached soccer for 20 years at the Dunmore campus. He ran a soccer camp at the local college for kids ages 7-13 for 16 years. He credits Dunmore’s Joe Baltrusaitis, who currently coaches soccer at the local campus, for his assistance helping him with the soccer program.

Penn State Scranton won a soccer championship in 1990 with Mallas at the helm.

Mallas has been involved with the Greater Scranton Penn State Alumni Chapter for the past 35 years. He has served as president for seven years, including the past five years.

 “We raise scholarships for students,” he said. “We invite  speakers from the State College main campus and had Joe Paterno five times for the event.”

Mallas played football under coach Lou Costanzo at Dunmore. “He made boys into men. He was tough, but a real gentleman off the field. He played football at Michigan State and was a great running back at Dunmore. What an honor to play for him. Our 1970 team went 7-2 and had some tremendous players.”

Mallas also ran track at Dunmore and played Legion baseball. Dunmore won the Lackawanna League track title in his senior year. 

He graduated from Penn State with a bachelor of science degree. in education in 1975 and went on to receive an M.Ed in Health and Physical Education from East Stroudsburg University in 1984. 

Mallas began coaching tennis and soccer at Penn State Scranton in 1979 and started a lengthy career teaching the physical education activity classes which he continues to do to this day. “I have been teaching activity classes at Penn State for 42 years.”

Well-rounded in  all sports, Mallas coached the Penn State Scranton bowling team, leading it to many championships.

As athletic director, Mallas is responsible for 11 men and women’s sports, including baseball, basketball, cross country, softball, soccer, golf and volleyball. He praised every single coach in all of the programs.

“You are only as good as your coaches and the people who surround you,” he said. “And we have great people. We have the best.”

He is credited with bringing women’s basketball back to the Dunmore campus in 2002.

“We try to get as many kids as possible involved in our sports programs,” he said. “We make sure they have a positive experience and graduate. We try to retain every kid.”

There are a little more than 1,000 students in the local college and 162 are active in sports. “That’s a better than 12 percent rate and that’s pretty good,” he said.

Vito Ruggiero, Dunmore borough manager, was recently named the new baseball coach at Penn State Scranton. 

Mallas said the local campus is looking to add tennis as a future sport.

The sports teams at the Dunmore campus participate in the Penn State University Athletic Conference, with championships played at University Park at State College. Title teams then go on to participate in the United States Athletic Conference playoffs.

Mallas credits Dr. Marwan Waffa, the school chancellor, for doing great things at the local campus. “I cannot say enough for what he has done and is doing,” he said. “He does so much for this community here.”

Well-versed, Mallas has also been a PIAA basketball and soccer official since the early 1990’s. 

He is assisted in his athletic director duties by Sara Rinkunas who coaches men and women’s cross country and serves as sports information director at the local college. 

“My life basically has been Penn State,” Mallas said. “And I love it.” 

Dunmore Scholar-Athlete Lauren Grippi Chasing Star at Penn State

Lauren Grippi icc 2

Dunmore tennis MVP Lauren Grippi, center, is shown with her coaches Jenny Ondeck and Jenna Urban.

By Steve Svetovich

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lauren Grippi had to wait until mid-July to graduate, and saw her graduating senior activities cancelled, but the humble, polite scholar-athlete took it all in stride.

“I felt like we missed out on a lot of fun senior activities like awards and class night,” she said. “but everyone was in the same predicament. We were all in the same boat, so how can you complain?” 

Lauren said she worked out, did school work and prepared for the college application process during her time off due to the pandemic. She will most likely study psychology while attending Penn State in the fall. 

Daughter of Shannon and Rich Grippi, Lauren had an impressive 3.6 academic average at Dunmore High School. She was a member of the National Honor Society and MVP and co-captain of the tennis team. She was Spanish Club recording secretary and a member of show choir, drama club and chorus. She was president of SADD, wrote for the school newspaper and was a football cheerleader for four years. Her favorite academic subject is English. 

Lauren, in her courteous nature, said she was honored to receive the team MVP award for tennis. “I felt honored and very happy when I heard about it,” she said. “Tennis takes a lot of determination and you can’t give up. You have to practice very hard.”

The talented and always busy Dunmore graduate said her parents taught her to work hard to achieve goals in life. “My parents taught me about a good work ethic and to always try my best at anything I do.

“My parents are always there for me. They also taught me to treat people right.”

Lauren said her Dunmore tennis coaches, Jenny Ondeck and Jenna Urban, taught her similar values. “Try my best and never give up. Work hard all the time. Keep your head up.”  

Lauren comes from a very talented and hard working family. Her dad is a retired Pennsylvania State Policeman. Her mom is a local dental hygienist. Her late grandfather Doug Miele was a veteran and Scranton Tribune newspaper editor. Her late great-grandfather Tony Miele played baseball, spent numerous years as a volunteer baseball coach and is a member of the Northeastern Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. Her brother Richie Grippi, 21, was an all-star baseball shortstop at Dunmore and is a junior at Penn State. 

Lauren said her goals in the immediate future are to pursue a psychology degree at Penn State, graduate, get a good job and eventually pursue an advanced degree and become a counselor. 

“I like to help people and listen when someone has a problem,” she said. “I like to help out with a person’s problem. That’s why I think counseling would be a good field for me.”

The soft-spoken tennis stalwart said she enjoys listening to country music in her spare time. Luke Combs is her favorite country artist.

Lauren said she enjoys being involved in a lot of school activities, but still kept her grades in the mid 90s. “I always got my school work done before practice,” she said. “I set time aside to study.” 

Kind, considerate and hard-working, Lauren will now chase her star at Penn State, but she will never forget Dunmore High School.

“I felt a part of a family at Dunmore,” she said. “I was welcomed by teachers and classmates throughout all my years at Dunmore. It is really a very close knit community. It will always be a part of me.”