By Paige Owens
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Bryce Jordan Center (BJC) at Penn State University Park erupted with thousands of cheers and vibrant T-shirts from students, volunteers, and families during THON Weekend 2015, which took place starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 through until 4 p.m. on Feb. 22.
Each year since 1977, Penn State students from the surrounding branch campuses and University Park gather together in State College for a 46 hour dance marathon to raise money for children with pediatric cancer. Penn State has raised over $127 million dollars for the Four Diamonds fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital since the creation of THON. THON Weekend 2015 generated a staggering total of $13,026,653.23, according to the official THON organization
Over 700 Penn State students are recognized as THON dancers from various organizations, fraternities, and campuses. This year, Brooke Churma, a senior Corporate Communications major, and Alex Pedder, a sophomore Mechanical Engineering major, represented Penn State New Kensington (PSNK) as THON dancers.
Pedder explained that he experienced his first THON Weekend in 2014. “After seeing my first THON and seeing the experiences people were having on the dance floor, I knew I wanted to be a dancer this year,” said Pedder.
Churma and Pedder had been preparing for months in order to be selected as the two dancers to represent PSNK. Their preparation consisted of a healthy diet, which excluded alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. A healthy diet was required in order to prepare the dancers for a 46 hour weekend without sleep or sitting down.
“Alex joked multiple times Thursday night that it was like we were being prepped to go into The Hunger Games the next day,” Churma enthusiastically stated. “It was honestly like luxury everything and then it’s like, ‘okay go to war now!’ But it has been so fun the entire time.”
Each dancer was not alone in their journey through THON Weekend. The dancers’ families, friends, campus members, and perhaps most importantly, their personal Dancer Relations Committee Member (DRCM), were all present to support and cheer on the dancers.
The volunteers for THON Weekend were all divided and distinguished by different colored T-shirts. DRCM volunteers wore yellow, while those in charge of Rules and Regulations wore red, Public Relations wore purple, and Hospitality food distributors wore pink.
“My favorite part of THON would probably be just interacting with our DRCM’s,” said Churma. “They’re personally there for us at all times and they’re perfect matches, I think, for the both of us. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Your DRCM is like your own little, personal cheerleader and they’re in charge of making sure you stay motivated at all times.”
Harte Olechowski, a sophomore studying Biology and a DRCM this year, discussed her experience and the pride she had in helping to inspire her dancer.
“We’re there to support our dancers physically, but also mentally and emotionally,” Olechowski said. “We make sure they’re eating and drinking water all the time. We also have to make sure they’re stretching. That’s one of the biggest things. We help to inspire them and when they hit their low points, we help bring them back up by having them play with one of the kids or by reminding them why they’re here.”
Caroline Ryan, a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at University Park, explained her position in Rules and Regulations (R&R) during an interview throughout THON weekend. “With R&R, it’s more about making sure everyone follows the rules,” Ryan said. “We’re in the stands, throughout the mezzanine, and some of us are out on the floor right now making sure no one has taken the dancers’ water or anything like that. We try to keep the peace and, in general, there aren’t many issues because we’re all here for the same cause.”
THON Weekend was packed with events for families, kids, dancers, and the Penn State students and faculty to enjoy. One of the signature events that occurred periodically throughout the weekend was the Line Dance by the dancer relation officers. The Line Dance was a nearly five minute choreographed dance that kept the dancers and families motivated, active, and stretched. Pedder explained that stretching was an essential part of the weekend in order to get through the 46 hour marathon.
Another event that drew in a nearly maximum capacity audience was the University Park athletic teams Pep Rally on Saturday evening. Each team put on a performance that they choreographed. The football team, men’s soccer team, men’s hockey team, and the men’s gymnastics team were among the finalists for this dance competition. The winner was judged based on the loudest crowd reaction when the finalists were listed. The men’s hockey team took the win with a crowd pleasing performance of a mash-up of “Come on Eileene” and “It’s Raining Men,” utilizing umbrellas, water guns, and various hockey equipment.
Among a variety of musical performances, fashion shows for the kids, and the 2015 Line Dance, audience members kept the dancers and kids motivated with colorful, creative THON inspired T-shirts and Greek organization letters. Penn State New Kensington was voted one of the best THON T-shirts this year by Onward State, an independent Penn State blog. The shirts read, “To infinity and be THON’d” with Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story under the phrase. The crafty letters and T-shirts helped keep up the spirits of the families, kids, and dancers at THON.
Throughout the weekend, students, families, faculty, and volunteers teamed together for the same reason: For The Kids (FTK).
After families of children with cancer took to the stage to share their stories and thank Penn State for the efforts that they have given for the last 43 years, a “Celebration of Life” video was played throughout the BJC. This heartbreaking moment brought every individual together, arm in arm, hand in hand to commemorate and remember those children lost to pediatric cancer.
After nearly 46 hours on their feet, THON dancers enjoyed one more Line Dance and then were finally able to sit down. The Nittany Lion mascot, a participating dancer for the entire weekend, collapsed on stage in front of the crowd.
To conclude another successful THON Weekend, the total amount for donations was announced. The top five Commonwealth Campuses, independent dancer couples, general organizations, Greek organizations, and special interest organizations amounts raised were announced before revealing the grand total of donations raised for THON that year. Penn State New Kensington’s THON organization raised $28,000.00 on their own in the last year of fundraising.
THON Weekend exists to provide the kids with pediatric cancer a chance to forget their illness, and enjoy their lives to the fullest. It gives students the opportunity to participate in an event that may never be understood to fully unless you are able to experience THON Weekend for yourself. THON will continue to fundraise and collect donations in order to one day find a cure.
“One day we will dance in celebration. Until then, we dance for a cure.” – THON 2015