THON Weekend: Just another reason why we still love College Sports

On Thoughts From The Bench, I’ve pretty much stuck to writing about college football, normally in a humorous way. Today, though, I’m gonna attempt to take a step back and write about something a little more serious and uplifting.

Growing up in a Penn State household, I always heard stories of the great Nittany Lion athletes through the years. Ki-Jana Carter, Michael Robinson, and Todd Blackledge were considered heroes. I grew up not being able to wait to wake up on Saturday mornings during the fall. Penn State wrestling was also another team that had a major part in our family, since the Nittany Lions have one of the most successful wrestling programs in the history of the sport. Even though Penn State basketball was never up to the same level, I still tuned in to every game I could catch. In reality, my family tried to watch every televised Penn State sporting event we could. We bled blue and white.

However, this weekend at Penn State, there is another event that is taking place in State College that really has nothing to do with Division I athletics: the annual Penn State Dance Marathon, also known as THON. THON was another event I grew up hearing about, since it’s a great source of pride for the university.

Starting today at 6 PM, a large portion of the Penn State student population will stand up for 46 straight hours in the Bryce Jordan Center in an attempt to raise money to fight pediatric cancer. Fraternities, sororities, clubs, and special fundraising groups will all gather in once place with one common goal. It really is a unifying event. I’ve been involved in THON a few times, and it’s definitely worthwhile. Last year alone, the event raised $10,151,663 for Four Diamonds, the foundation that assists families suffering from childhood cancer. Since 1973, THON has raised over $157 million.

I get it, it probably sounds like I’m bragging about how much better my school is than everyone else’s. While Penn State can definitely seem like a cult in some ways, THON is the one thing any school should be able to brag about and get away with it. The largest student-run philanthropy in the world: it’s an awesome thing to be able to call your own. I would think most people would agree, other than Keith Olbermann.

What a P.O.S.

Either way, THON is not just an event that brings clubs and Greek life organizations together. The Penn State sports teams also participate in the festivities and raise money. Recently, Charlie Shuman, an offensive lineman on the football team, spent the last two years as a dancer at THON. Dancing at THON is both rewarding and taxing, since you’re literally on your feet for 46 hours with no breaks. I’ve heard friends who have danced at THON describe it as one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.

All of Penn State sports also put on a pep rally during the three day event, which is one of the most entertaining parts of the weekend. Head coach James Franklin has made many appearances at THON as well. Overall, it’s one of the great examples of the good that college athletics can bring. It’s a bright spot in a world of NCAA scandals and under the table deals. And trust me, by the time THON ends on Sunday afternoon, there’s never a dry eye in the Bryce Jordan Center.

I realize that Thoughts From The Bench, being a Pittsburgh-based website, probably gets a lot of readers ready to sling hate at Penn State sports. While it’s normally all in good fun, I’m asking that this weekend you give as much support as you can to an event that actually makes a world of difference in many families’ lives, regardless of what school puts it on. There’s still time to donate (donations are open all weekend):

Let’s try to beat pediatric cancer, no matter what team we cheer for.

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