Penn State students dancing 46 hours to help cancer research

Caroline McKenna, dancing for the College of IST, learns the line dance during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Abby Drey, Centre Daily Times)
Caroline McKenna, dancing for the College of IST, learns the line dance during the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Abby Drey, Centre Daily Times) (AP)
Posted: February 18, 2012

It looks as if someone emptied a giant box of crayons inside the Bryce Jordan Center at Pennsylvania State University. A heaving mass of dancing students is dressed in capes, tutus, propeller beanies and bandannas in all colors of the rainbow.

The event is THON, billed as the world's largest student-run philanthropy, which raises money for research and support of families battling pediatric cancer. More than 700 dancers are planning to remain on their feet for 46 hours, starting from 6 p.m. Friday until 4 p.m. Sunday. Thousands of others were on hand as organizers, spectators and "moralers" -- officially designated givers of massages and pep talks.

Close to 300 cancer families came to join in the revelry. Among them was Michael Deckman, who drove two hours from the Wilkes-Barre area with his wife and two sons -- the older of whom, 9-year-old Caleb, is a cancer survivor.

"For my children, it's a two-day party," Deckman said. "They have balls, water pistols and about 3,000 students to play with. It's like Christmas."

Deckman wore a T-shirt that depicted a scorecard of Caleb's successful battle against his disease, a type of kidney cancer: Cancer: O; My son: 1

On the minds of many was the late football coach and recent cancer victim Joe Paterno, who roused the crowd when he visited THON in 2009.

"He's in all of our hearts," said sophomore Jennifer Evans, a moraler. "But we still 'THON' on."

By midday Saturday, few dancers seemed to be showing any signs of wear and tear.

Nurses at a health station stood ready to hand out pain pills, but reported that there were few takers.

Since 1977, THON has raised more than $78 million for research and family support.

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