Penn State

Making sure Thon goes on: The OPPerations committee works behind the scenes to make the weekend a success

Penn State senior Phil Morford loads crates Thursday while packing a truck of items to set up for Penn State’s Dance Marathon.
Penn State senior Phil Morford loads crates Thursday while packing a truck of items to set up for Penn State’s Dance Marathon. CDT photo

Michelle Stoltz loaded boxes, mats and banners onto a rental truck in minus 11-degree wind chill temperatures Thursday. She did it for six hours, with rosy cheeks from the bitter cold, but with one thought on her mind.

“Anything for the kids,” she said.

Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon OPPerations committee members loaded five 26-foot trucks and four 48-foot semi-trailers with supplies behind the Health and Food Services Building, all to set up for Thon Friday.

Extreme temperatures have forced volunteers to do some things earlier than they had planned.

OPPerations Director Andy Koffke said he and several of his committee captains arrived to pick up the trucks an hour earlier than scheduled to get them heated.

“The major challenge for us is the weather, and everything else after is really easy,” Koffke said. “They’re diesel trucks, so we have trouble starting them, and we’re trying to figure that out. We have a generator, luckily, and they have preheat coils.”

The 21 OPPerations committee captains typically deliver supplies to the Bryce Jordan Center at 4:45 a.m Friday for setup, but they will have to start about an hour earlier than usual to heat the trucks for the short drive to the building.

“That’s what we have to do to stay on the rest of our schedule,” he said. “There was one (truck) we had to wait on for an hour to start this morning ... so we have to give ourselves some wiggle room. It means we won’t get as much sleep tonight, but we love what we do for Thon.”

The committee, which has about 750 members, gives itself two hours of extra time each year with the goal of a 2 p.m. Friday completion. Spectators aren’t allowed in the BJC until 4 p.m., two hours before the 708 dancers stand up.

Each committee member will spend at least two and a half hours setting up — at least 1,875 man hours.

Committee captains Kevin Bunce and Jake Criscuolo, who coordinate Thon setup and tear-down, have broken down the schedule into five-minute increments that show where each committee member should be, when they should be there and what they’re doing from 5:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. Friday.

Bunce said that, a few years ago, sound equipment was delivered late, but OPPerations adjusted to get it set up on time.

“With all these moving parts, nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, but we don’t freak out or get upset,” Bunce said. “We stay focused and work the problem and find solutions. We also work a lot with the 14 other committees, and we play a small role in supporting all of what they do. The neat part of our job is that we have a hand in everything.”

That is why Stoltz, who has served on three different Thon committees, returned to the OPPerations committee this year.

“When you’re OPP, you’re in there first, and you leave last, and you see every little piece of Thon start to finish,” she said. “This is the time everyone in OPP has waited for. When you walk in there, even early in the morning, there’s a flood of emotion that overcomes you and just never leaves you while you’re there. It’s the same for everyone who Thons. We’re doing this for the kids.”