UNIVERSITY PARK -- So, I'm back in the press box at the BJC as THON's first 18 hours drift away, watching the swirling mass of color and movement on the floor below. Two women approach me -- "Are you a reporter?" Yes, I tell them, I'm a freelancer from Philly and a former THON dancer who's here to write about it for my blog.
"Why isn't the Inquirer here?" they ask. Good question. I've often wondered why the Philly media so pointedly ignores what happens at THON, when so many of the dancers, volunteers and organizers are from the Philly area. You've seen them standing on street corners all over the city during canning weekends.
Nevermind the sheer size and impact THON has -- $7.4 million last year, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, not to mention it's the STATE UNIVERSITY -- these are the sons and daughters of the people who buy your newspapers and watch your TV broadcasts, and in many cases, they're alumni themselves. And they want to know why you can't be bothered.
Completely unsolicited, these two women -- the mother and an aunt of a dancer, Abington High School graduate Alix Porreca -- then read me the straight-up Riot Act and asked me to pass it along to my friends in the Philly media. Gladly.
"I really find it shocking, actually," said Andie Porreca, a 1975 graduate who was on campus the year of the first dance marathon. "Why can't Philly at least acknowledge this huge effort? They cover Penn State sports, why are they not covering this?"
This is Andie Porreca's third time at THON, the third year she's made the road trip to campus and joined the thousands of family and friends who crowd into the stands to cheer on the dancers.
"One out of four people you run into in Philly is a relative, a friend, a cousin, a girlfriend of somebody who's involved with Penn State, or with THON," Porreca said. It's illogical to her that nobody in the Philly media (except Citizen Mom, of course) can be bothered to cover the event in any meaningful way.
Down on the floor, Alix was surrounded by friends, supporters and fellow dancers from her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, while her mom and her Aunt Robyn (they're pictured above, busting moves during this year's line dance) talked about running into fellow Penn Staters on their travels around the world. Alaska, China, even in the middle of nowhere in Yellowstone National Park.
"We're out on a remote trail with a guide, and he saw my Penn State clothing and introduced himself by saying, 'So, how'd we do last night? I had the Penn State on, and it made us friends," Porecca said.
OK, that's enough ranting out of me. It's time for another line dance.
UNIVERSITY PARK -- Pardon me while I sound like one of Those Alumni for a minute, but in my day, THON was held in the White Building, not some fancypants arena. Hell, the arena wasn't even here then -- when I graduated back in the '94, the Bryce Jordan Center was a hole in the ground where our tailgating field had been.
And forget this 46-hour stuff, we stood for 48 hours and liked it! OK, liked it is a stretch. What you do at THON is endure.
In the 16 years since Scott Dodd and I staggered through two days on a team representing the Daily Collegian news division, Penn State's annual fund raiser for pediatric cancer research has grown to include 708 dancers in an effort that last year raised $7.4 million to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund.
Over 33 years, THON has raised more than $61 million, making it the
largest student-run charity effort in the world. It's a massive
undertaking, keeping the dancers fed, hydrated and entertained around the clock for two days, and it's all done by student volunteers, as THON doesn't
have a single paid staff member.
As I write this, I'm sitting in the press box at the BJC, watching this year's dancers stream in and plop down on the floor, catching whatever rest they can and gearing themselves up for the weekend to come.
At 6 p.m., they stand, and they won't sit down again until 4 p.m. Sunday.
Over the weekend, they'll be looked after by more than 3,000 volunteers and will spend time with about 200 kids affected by cancer, and their families.
At its heart, THON is a party meant to give the kids a good time and a break from their daily battle with cancer. There's lots of silliness, goofy costumes, bands, performances, and a legendary annual line dance.
Meanwhile, on campus and in town, it feels a bit like a football weekend, which is about right. Once the football season ends, this is the biggest gig in town until Arts Fest, in the summer.
"Fall is for football, but spring is THON," said Caitlin Zankowski, this year's overall chair. "People understand that this is part of Penn State culture."
I can say, from my own perspective, that it was one of the most affecting experiences of my time here in Happy Valley. If nothing else, it took me a while to get the smell of baby powder out of my nose. But more on that later. I'll be checking in at various points over the weekend.