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THON Set for Weekend, Promises Enhanced Experience for Spectators

by on February 18, 2014 2:05 PM

Penn State's THON officially begins this weekend.

The "no-sitting, no-sleeping" 46-hour dance marathon celebrates a yearlong effort to raise funds and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer.

What started in 1973 with 39 couples grooving to hits like "Jumping Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones for 30 hours in Penn State's HUB Ballroom is now the world's largest student-run philanthropic effort in the world, with more than 15,000 student volunteers.

Beginning Friday at 6 pm, a record-setting total of 711 dancers will pack the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center looking to break last year's all-time donation total of $12.3 million. Since 2004, donation totals have shattered the record set the previous year, by an average increase of $980,702.11 per year. To date, THON has raised more than $100 million for the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

While raising money "for the kids" is the goal, Executive Director Ryan Patrick says he expects to see positive change for a safer and more enjoyable experience.

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"This year, I have to see many of the new measures we have put into place achieve our overall objective of increasing the spectator experience at THON Weekend," says Patrick.

Part of those measures include a new digital line system that will place spectators in a "digital queue" by using coded bracelets. People will be told what time they'll be able to enter the Bryce Jordan Center.

In previous years, large lines outside the BJC forced hundreds to wait for hours before having a chance to enter. Last year, EMS had to treat several students for symptoms of hypothermia after standing in the bitter cold.

Under the new system, when the arena reaches capacity, the doors close and the digital queue begins. People will be placed in the digital line and THON will release information regarding space in the building each hour on the hour through its website, social media, and text alerts.

To combat the potential threat of cold weather, the Pegula Ice Arena will be open during designated times throughout the weekend to serve as a waiting area. Live announcements will be made as numbers are released, letting spectators know when it's their time to enter the BJC.

THON Public Relations Director Dana Giacobello says finishing touches are being made by committees this week to get ready for the weekend. The Entertainment Committee spends every night this week at the BJC putting together the stage; Family Relations is working on finalizing details for all family schedules and events; and OPPerations is going over event plans with the Bryce Jordan Center staff.

Despite the heavy workload leading up to the big weekend, Giacobello says the volunteers are "really excited" to be a part of the celebration.

Patrick echoes those sentiments, saying the ultimate goal of the weekend is to have fun and give kids and families affected by childhood cancer a reason to celebrate.

"I would love to see each and every family that attends THON Weekend with a smile on their faces, because at the end of the day we spend all year long working hard for them," adds Patrick. "THON Weekend is a special weekend to me, and as long as everyone involved is having an amazing time and continuing to spread the message of THON and our fight against pediatric cancer, I will deem it a success."

C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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