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Penn State dance marathon to fight cancer shatters record

UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State students this year raised a record-breaking $10.69 million to fight pediatric cancer, a bright spot in an otherwise dark year at the university.

Students participating in the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, called THON, raised $10,686,924, easily surpassing last year’s then-record total of $9.56 million, event officials announced Sunday. THON, a yearlong fundraiser culminating in a weekend dance marathon, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Money raised benefits The Four Diamonds Fund, which helps children at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital by supporting them and their families and with research.

This school year has been tumultuous for Penn State. Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky faces child sexual abuse charges, and two university officials face perjury and failure-to-report charges. All maintain their innocence.

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Trustees fired famed football coach Joe Paterno and forced the university’s president to resign; neither was charged.

Paterno, 85, died in January of lung cancer. His family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to THON or the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania.

When the late Paterno surprised the crowd at THON in 2009 by showing up to thank them, he said: “I wish the whole world could see and feel what’s in this room right now. The love and commitment and dedication.”

Paterno’s son, Jay, told students yesterday they’ve already accomplished what his father told him: “Make an impact.”

“When the storm clouds gathered around this campus in November, a lot of people ran for the hills. Not the students, who are leaders of THON. You guys stood your ground, you kept up the fight. … Your leadership, student leadership is going to tell the world what Penn State is all about once again, your leadership, and it’s going to happen this afternoon,” Jay Paterno said.

Students dancing in the marathon, 708 of them, sat on the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center at 4 p.m., the end of 46 hours spent standing and sleepless. But they — and the audience all clad in fluorescent T-shirts, packing the arena — jumped to their feet as event leaders theatrically revealed the grand total.

The atmosphere at THON remained the same as always — part dance party, part babysitting. Anyone who ventures onto the floor of the arena, where the main event takes place, is likely to be bopped by an errant beach ball and squirted by a water gun.

The center was filled to capacity, about 12,000 people, around 8:30 a.m., 7 1/2 hours before the grand total was announced. Several hundred people waited outside for hours hoping to secure a spot.

Penn State senior Mike Russo of New Jersey participated in THON with student group Atlas, which raised about $369,290 this year, the most of any campus special interest organization. Russo served as the group’s chairman last year.

While seeking donations in the public, Russo said, some people made quips regarding Penn State’s situation this year, but people know THON’s reputation.

“The overwhelming support (for THON) far outweighed any negative sentiment toward Penn State,” Russo said.

Locally, Penn State Fayette raised about $87,940; Penn State New Kensington netted about $29,800.

THON Overall Chairwoman Elaine Tanella said that the money raised “shows the power of the student body.”

“It’s absolutely special, just the trying year that we’ve had in general as a Penn State community,” she said. “It just goes to show you when you believe, you can do anything.”

Most donations were made by individuals, Tanella said.

She attributed the increase to the passion of students, who continually strive to raise more money for the Four Diamonds Fund.

“I think THON has been that bright spot, so I think people focused on that a lot this year,” Tanella said.

THON’s theme this year, selected over the summer, is “Brighten Every Journey.”

Since 1977, THON has raised more than $88 million for the Four Diamonds Fund.


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