Penn State

Penn State Thon: Dancers motivated to stay on their feet ‘for a good cause’

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Noah Benner began to feel ill in February 2012.

He complained of migraines and would sleep for 13 hours at a time. An eye doctor found that Noah’s optic nerves were swollen and suggested he see a neurologist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Noah, 9, a student at Marion-Walker Elementary School, was diagnosed with choroid plexus papilloma. Since then, he’s had two brain surgeries to remove tumors and has been tumor-free since last year, said Tiffany Benner, Noah’s mother. But he still goes for checkups every six months.

The Benners were among the Four Diamonds families in attendance Saturday at the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. They are thankful to everyone who has helped them.

“It’s a little ironic,” said Craig Benner, Noah’s father. “We both work at Penn State and I’m a Penn State graduate who was never involved in Thon as a student. I guess this is our way of being a part of an event that gives so much support that it’s hard to put our thanks into words. Everyone’s just been unbelievable to us.”

As Thon reached its halfway point Saturday, some students took tips from veteran participants on how to make it the rest of the way. Others, such as Brynn Snyder, were relying on adrenaline to last 46 hours at the Bryce Jordan Center with no rest.

“You just have to keep yourself motivated and know that it’s for a good cause,” Snyder said.

With the all-night chanting, dancing and live music, Snyder said it’s impossible to get any rest.

“I think we all do a good job of making sure no one is passing out,” she said. “We’re just having a ball and it’s really rewarding being able to do it for something good.”

Thon benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which financially helps families of pediatric cancer patients.

Thon wraps up at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, when the final total raised is announced.

Thon raised $12.3 million last year, shattering the 2012 total of $10.7 million.

So far, things have been running smoothly for organizers, said spokesman Nick Lello.

On Friday, Thon launched its digital line management system.

Visitors were given a coded bracelet that gave them a spot in a digital queue. Spectators were able to enter the Jordan Center once their number was announced, and were able to wait for their number to be called in a place that is more convenient for them, instead of waiting outside.

The system will be used the remainder of the weekend.

“It’s something that allows us to make things easier for people waiting to get in and keep the chaos under control,” Lello said.

Nights were the busiest times,and Lello expects the last four hours Sunday to get even crazier.

“We really need to respect the BJC capacity rules and make sure we’re doing a good job of keeping things under control,” Lello said. “I think right now we need to plan for even busier times. The last four hours are probably the highlight of the entire weekend where everyone wants to attend.”

Throughout the day Saturday, fraternities, sororities and other student-run organizations hit the stage as they came up with choreographed dances to upbeat songs. Student-athletes were also part of the mix.

Jay Paterno, a son of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor earlier in the week, praised the university and community for their efforts.

He even gave a present to Thon Executive Director Ryan Patrick — a coffee mug that was left at the former site of the Joe Paterno statue near Beaver Stadium by members of Thon two years ago.

“This event is the most important and awe-inspiring event on campus and probably in the world,” Paterno said. “If you come here and your heart isn’t racing, then you’re not human.”

Paterno has been involved with Thon since its beginning, as his father was highly involved.

While Paterno said his father was usually on vacation during Thon each year, he said he made it home a day early after a trip to Hawaii in 2009 to speak to the crowd.

“He knew this was the event that made Penn State what it is and couldn’t have been more proud of Penn State,” Paterno said. “I know how proud he was of this and how proud he still is. You come here and see that there is no divide and that these students are doing all this for people they’ll never even meet.”

While Paterno addressed Thon participants, those spectators cheered, and mingled with their peers and other families who are directly affected by pediatric cancer.

Alex Sherry, a senior from Pittsburgh, interacted with the families.

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Sherry said. “Cancer has not directly impacted me, but in the four years working with Thon, I’ve been able to meet families that’s strength in a tough time is amazing. Something like this gives them hope, and I’m really blessed to be a part of it all.”

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