Months of organizing gave way to dancing Friday night as thousands of Penn State University students renewed their fight against childhood cancer by ushering in the 41st annual Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or "THON."
A crowd expected to exceed 15,000 jammed into the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's main University Park campus for the two-day event that began at 6 p.m. Friday and runs through 4 p.m. Sunday.
The 710 dancers who intend to persevere for 46 straight hours had plenty of encouragement from those screaming from the stands.
Beneath a sign that read "Inspire Tomorrow's Miracles," performers on stage shouting into their microphones worked to energize the crowd as beach balls were swatted back and forth above the arena floor. The event was streamed live through outlets including WPSU and StateCollege.com.
The fundraiser -- the largest student-run philanthropy in the world -- has been handed down through generations of Penn State students, and the energy level ramped up again as this year's event approached. "We're really excited," Cat Powers, a spokeswoman for the marathon, said Friday afternoon.
Organizers hope that tonight the dancers inside the Jordan Center will be joined by others across Pennsylvania and beyond for an event at 6:45 p.m. called "Dance with Us," billed as the first global coordinated line dance to boost awareness of pediatric cancer.
Far-flung viewers are being urged to use a live stream on THON's Facebook page to dance along and to send videos of their line dancing. The best examples will be used on the official Dance With Us page on www.thon.org/DanceWithUs, organizers said.
In a statement announcing the idea last month, Will Martin, THON chairman, said the idea was to make those far removed from campus a part of the event.
THON, which debuted in 1973, raised $2,000 that year. In the decades since, more than $89 million has been collected through efforts of Penn State students, staff and others, including nearly $11 million raised last year.
Proceeds go to the Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Medical Center and are used to help families and children by covering medical bills not paid for by insurance and by advancing cancer research.
The effort is driven by some 15,000 annual volunteers. Participants from Penn State's two dozen campuses statewide have written letters soliciting donations; gone on road trips for "canning weekends," when students solicit donations in canisters outside stores and at busy intersections; and conducted various other fundraisers.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.