Penns Valley

Penns Valley junior high students hold dance marathon to benefit cancer research

Students and teachers wear shirts that read 59, to support TJ Coursen of Centre Hall during the Penns Valley Middle School Dance Marathon on Friday, April 24, 2015. Coursen has had 59 tumors in his battle with cancer.
Students and teachers wear shirts that read 59, to support TJ Coursen of Centre Hall during the Penns Valley Middle School Dance Marathon on Friday, April 24, 2015. Coursen has had 59 tumors in his battle with cancer. CDT photo

The desire to help others starts at a young age in the Penns Valley Area School District.

On Friday, Penns Valley junior high students congregated in the school’s cafeteria to host its own version of the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

There wasn’t a lot of dancing. Instead, there was a dodgeball tournament, color wars competition and more.

Eighth-grader Sophie McQuaide, 13, was even able to shove a whipped cream-filled pie in the face of student teacher Sarah Bluver. But she had to offer a buck in return.

The mission was to raise money for Team TJ — a group of locals who will be biking in The Ride to Conquer Cancer in New York City to benefit the immunotherapy research at the Cancer Research Institute.

The team is riding in honor of T.J. Coursen, of Centre Hall, who was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma in 2002. Since then, he’s had 59 tumors removed from his body, and doctors are keeping an eye on another one that’s forming in his back, Coursen said.

“I kind of lost count of the surgeries; it took me all the way to Germany for some,” Coursen said.

But the family and community support has been overwhelming.

“These kids are remarkable,” Coursen said. “The fact that they’re going out of their way to host an event like this speaks volumes.”

The idea to create the inaugural Penns Valley Dance Marathon started in March from Penn State student teachers Bluver and Miles Edmiston, who were both Thon participants.

They then met with student council members to organize an event that would financially help support the cause.

Junior high teacher and student council adviser Kalena Smith said that each student who wanted to attend PVDM had to raise at least $20 that would be put toward Team TJ’s $12,500 goal.

The team raised about $9,500 to date, and expected to hit its goal once the final count came in from the dance marathon.

Halfway through Friday night’s event, more than $1,700 was already raised.

“We have about 70 kids here, but most are going beyond the $20,” she said. “There have been kids coming in with $40 or $50. They’ve been completely committed to this. In our first year, it’s already a success.”

Sophie said she raised nearly $50, along with friends and fellow student council members Olivia Krum, 13, and Marissa Stecko, 14, who each raised about the same amount.

“It’s nice to see us all take initiative to give back,” Sophie said. “There’s been a lot of student involvement just to bring everyone together for a good cause.”

Coursen’s wife, Kathy Coursen, along with four other team members will take the two-day, 175-mile bike ride the first weekend in June.

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