UNIVERSITY PARK — Most Penn State fans at Saturday’s game were excited to see Joe Paterno notch his 400th win, but Thon volunteers including Jony Rommel were out to steal at least a little bit of the show.
The IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, the annual student event that raises millions to fight pediatric cancer, was featured in a number of ways before and during Saturday’s game in an effort to spread awareness of the event beyond campus.
“We’re really trying to promote Thon beyond just a local level. We’re trying to reach the state and national level as well, and events like this are a great opportunity to reach a larger crowd of people,” said Rommel, the overall public relations chairwoman for the event.
To raise awareness, Mac Kretz, 14, who was helped by Thon and whose cancer is now in remission, served as honorary drum major and led the Blue Band from the Bryce Jordan Center into Beaver Stadium. Thon was highlighted on the video board during the game; at halftime, the overall chairwoman addressed the crowd along with a Thon family. The Blue Band also spelled out the word Thon during its performance.
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“We’re always looking for new ways Thon can grow and continue to improve each year,” Rommel said. “This was fun, but the ultimate goal is trying to conquer pediatric cancer.”
A different perspective
While 104,147 fans got to witness history Saturday, not all of them were cheering for it to happen.
Before the game, a small contingent of purple-clad Northwestern fans were hoping the Nittany Lions would let the anticipation of the momentous occasion build up another week.
“I’d like to see JoePa win 400 — on television next week,” Gail Kaucher, of Reading, said.
Kaucher and her sister, Cheryl Stralo, also of Reading, said they both normally cheered for Penn State, but because Kaucher’s son had attended Northwestern, they wore purple ribbons and windbreakers to show where their loyalties lay on Saturday.
“I do have blood streaked with blue and white, but today, I’ve just got some purple mixed in with it,” Stralo said.
Nearby, Dennis King, a recent Northwestern alum, made a bold prediction.
“I think we’re going to be his last loss ever,” King said of Paterno. “I think he’ll lose today, and then retire after getting his 400th next weekend.”
Veterans gain experience
Among the crowd were 30 veterans in treatment at the James E. Van Zandt Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Altoona. The veterans, their guests and hospital staff members were treated to tickets to the game and a pre-game tailgate party by an anonymous donor.
They included older residents of the community living center, homeless female veterans and veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/ Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In no rush
Not all fans were in a rush to get into Beaver Stadium right at game time.
Kim Morrison Johnson, of Howard, still had dozens of people hanging out at her tailgate party well into the first quarter. Her bunker-like tarp-tent, spread expansively over four parking spots, accommodated them easily, along with a flat-screen television and an impressive array of food and drinks. The cold rain was a factor in the group’s decision to remain in the parking lot, Morrison Johnson said, but it wasn’t the deciding one.
“It’s more fun to be out here,” she explained, “surrounded by food and friends.”