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Why Penn State’s THON is the Best Tradition in the Country

Written by Knight Jarecki and Caleb Craig

State College, Pennsylvania isn’t just your typical college town. Home to one of the nation's largest universities, Penn State, the college town of about 42,000 residents, holds an event every year that is one of the most unique traditions held across the country. Each winter while most East Coast college students are trying to stay warm, Penn State holds a 46 hour no sleep – no sit dance marathon that raises money for families that have been affected by pediatric cancer. Each year about 16,500 Penn State students participate in the largest student run philanthropy event in the world.

Photo from Thon 2020 taken by our very own Caleb Craig

The event officially named the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon known commonly as THON, has raised $180 million dollars to the Four Diamond Fund. “All the money goes directly to [The Four Diamonds Fund] to help families that have been affected by pediatric cancer; So throughout the year [Penn State] fundraise,” said Allyson Lutter who participated in THON this past February as a dancer. The Four Diamonds Fund uses the money raised by THON to cover 100% of all medical expenses that are not covered by insurance for the Four Diamonds children at Penn State Children’s Hospital. Since the founding of Four Diamonds in 1972 they have helped more than 4,000 children and families. They also have worked to create childhood cancer research at Penn State as they seek improved treatments and cures for pediatric cancer.

PSU Children's Hospital in Hershey PA (Photo: Penn State)

While THON might be just 1 weekend a year, there is more that goes on behind the largest student run philanthropy event. “We spend a year fundraising money. My dance partner and I were advertising that we wanted to make a difference for this organization whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, other social media sites, or just sending out links of the donor drive to friends and family so people knew what the mission was, what we are doing, and why they should help out,” Lutter said. In addition to advertising there are many ways students help raise money. Many students do bake sales or team up with local businesses that donate directly to THON.

PSU’s Nittany Lion holds up Four Diamonds (Via: Caleb Craig)

After months of hard work fundraising, Penn State’s THON weekend kicks off on a Friday night at 6pm. The event then runs until 4pm Sunday when the final total amount is revealed to the crowd. This concludes the 46 hour event.

While the event seems pretty physical, it is just as much of a mental test as well for participants. “It hit me as I was standing, like 2 minuetes before I was so ready – I thought ‘let’s go!’ But standing up was a completely different thing- it’s such an easy task but then knowing I can’t sit down for 46 hours got to me,” said Lutter . “Once I got over that [feeling] it was the best feeling in the world, like ‘yeah I can’t sit for 46 hours but that’s only some of the pain these kids go through every single day. It was such a powerful thought and kept me going through the whole weekend.’”

Activities also keep the students going the whole weekend. THON organizes many events like the hourly line dance, a 5 minute dance and a song that talks about things on campus and around the world as well as other trends. Many additional events such as scheduled concerts that support local artists and 2 surprise performances by famous musicians happen throughout the weekend. But if that doesn't interest you, don't fret. There are also events such as a Talent Show or the inspirational final 4 hours where survivors and families tell stories of how Four Diamonds helped them. Individual groups also hold activities such as corn hole tournaments, large scale games of tag, catch, or anything to help them stay awake. Lutter says the events made the experience more fun, but the support of others is what really kept her going.

Cash Cash held a surprise performance during THON late 2/22 (Photo: Caleb Craig)

It is not only the students that get to participate in THON, but also many Penn State athletes help support the cause as well. According to the Penn State Athletics Department, student athletes at Penn State have raised more than $830,000 since 1998 for THON. $265,000 of the money has been raised in the last 5 years for the Four Diamonds Fund.

PSU DT Dvon Ellies holds a young child (Photo: Caleb Craig)

Student Athletes at Penn State also have an opportunity to participate in Athletes Hour and Pep Rally during the annual weekend event. Athletes Hour is when members of all the sports teams at Penn State come together and spend an hour playing games and taking photos with the Four Diamonds children. After the Athletes Hour comes the Pep Rally which is one of the most exciting events that everyone looks forward to every year. All Penn State athletic teams rehearse a dance routine and compete against each other for the winning title. “Men’s gymnastics stood out to me…It’s just really nice that the athletes come and support- bring the energy and fun” Lutter said. Men’s Gymnastics took home their 4th straight THON pep rally victory this past February, besting the Penn State Volleyball girls in front of an electric crowd of more than 16,000.

PSU mic man Eric Gaspich hypes up crowd for the Pep Rally (Via: Caleb Craig)

This past February, THON totaled a final count of $11,696,942.38 for the Four Diamond fund. While most college traditions are focused on school spirit, Penn State uses their school spirit for a greater cause. “Yeah there’s a lot of people who go to Penn State but that many people raised over 11 million dollars for the kids,” Pondered Lutter.

(Via @pennstateThon on Instagram)

If you would like to learn more about THON you can visit THON.org. if you would like to make a donation please visit donate.THON.org.

For a full video review of 2020 THON watch this video by Jacob Will:


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