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A Different Approach to State Patty's Day: THON Appreciation Day

by on February 20, 2014 6:00 AM

In nine days State Patty's Day is scheduled to return to downtown State College -- a day essentially devoted to drinking and revelry.

Since 2007 students have celebrated this unofficial "holiday" much to the chagrin of university and local government officials.

Some historical perspective here; in 2007 spring break was moved back a week and the actual Saint Patrick's Day fell when Penn State students were out of town. Students used social media to create "State Patty's Day" on a day they would be in town to celebrate here. Some students believed the University conspired to move spring break back to wipe out the Saint Patrick's Day revelry in State College.

Whatever the motive, one thing was certain -- State Patty's Day took on a life of its own -- even the next year when Saint Patrick's Day no longer fell during Spring Break.

I don't condone excessive drinking, but I do understand what I wrote in a column here a few years ago:

"...as a person gets older it is human nature for the memory to get hazy at the edges — particularly the less-flattering edges of youthful indiscretion. They tend to look at the successive generations as being ever less virtuous in their behavior than their generation. No generation ever held a monopoly on virtue — nor has any generation cornered the market on debauchery."

Understanding that we weren't perfect when we went to college, it may be time for everyone -- students, university administration, and borough officials -- to take a new approach; Turn State Patty's Day into Dance Marathon Appreciation Day.

Dance Marathon is not only an amazing charity event raising millions of dollars to fight pediatric cancer. It has also become a big economic event for this area. Thousands of alumni and parents return to see THON or just be in town to be a part of it. They stay in hotels, they eat in restaurants. They buy gas, merchandise and get parking tickets.

All day Sunday, the Bryce Jordan Center is filled and the concessions business is through the roof. This year THON is also looking to "Pack Pegula" Ice Arena for the revealing of the final record-breaking fund-raising total. All told, well over 20,000 people will be in two university buildings to celebrate.

Last year Penn State students raised over $12 million for the Four Diamonds Fund which helps families and children battling pediatric cancer. THON is quite simply the greatest thing happening on this campus or on any campus anywhere in the world.

For what these students do for the children and families and for what they do for our town and our university they deserve a day of salute, a celebration thrown in their honor.

For that we should create THON Appreciation Day to replace State Patty's Day.

Solutions for State Patty's Day have been kicked around. It seems everything has been tried including $5,000 payouts to downtown bars that agree to stay closed for the day -- or if open, to not sell any alcoholic beverages. That money could be put to more productive use.

Start with a parade that includes all the groups involved in THON. Invite the dancers and Four Diamonds Families to ride in the parade, giving those children another happy day in their battle against cancer. The parade will bring families and people downtown. Look at what downtown looks like when the Homecoming Parade winds down College Avenue. It's fun for everyone.

Allow the bars to open; let people celebrate responsibly.

How do we insure more responsible behavior? Sell $10 wristbands that allow entry into any downtown bar with all the fees going to kick off the following year's THON. Any unruly patron gets the wristband cut off and they're done for the day. Invite adults and students to celebrate together.

After the parade, the university and borough could schedule concerts in the Bryce Jordan Center, Eisenhower Auditorium, Rec Hall and the State Theatre -- getting acts representing a broad spectrum of tastes to have something for everyone. A percentage of the gate for the shows would go to next year's THON. The best thing about the concerts? Students who attend will put down their drinks to enjoy the music while raising money for THON and ultimately Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

The Borough of State College would get a great weekend of events, bringing people into town again and showcasing the special bond between students and residents of this community. What was a day just for drinking could be transformed into a day saluting our student's achievement; a weekend of a parade and concerts as well as some well-regulated revelry honoring a job well done.

Best of Luck to everyone involved in THON this weekend. You make us all Penn State Proud and perhaps in 2015 we can salute you properly — with a day set aside to honor all the good that you do for so many people.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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