2013: The End of THON as We Know It.
My best friend growing up was diagnosed with Leukemia when we were in high school. Four Diamonds is a primary reason he was able to beat the disease and be cancer free for eleven years; long enough for me to stand in his wedding and, this summer, he to stand in mine. The financial and emotional support Four Diamonds gave him and his family throughout the worst times of their lives is immeasurable.
THON has been a part of their lives every day since he was diagnosed. He graduated from Penn State and danced at the THON, twice. His younger sisters organized mini-THONs at their middle and high schools. He was part of the “Where Are They Now” feature a few years ago because of his great success since winning the fight.
I opened this article on a personal note to establish that I am writing this article with a strong bias. I am not a “hater” or attention seeker going against the grain to get a reaction, I love THON. I am also not writing as a spiteful parent or college student who was locked out in the cold for hours, only to ultimately be turned away. I was able to attend THON, be on the floor, and cry with everyone else when the final numbers were revealed.
THON has grown from the White Building to the Bryce Jordan Center; it has gone from a grassroots effort to a global phenomenon. THON’s exponential growth in both popularity and fundraising are equally as hard to believe as they are impressive. However, without major policy changes these upward trends will end and it may happen as early as 2014. Four Diamonds has simply outgrown THON and one is going to suffer or hold back the other moving forward. THON, as we know it, has peaked.
Throughout the weekend the “capacity” issues at the Bryce Jordan Center were very well documented. Hundreds if not thousands of people were turned away Saturday and Sunday, some after waiting hours in sub-freezing conditions. Parents were unable to see their kids who were dancing, students were unable to support their classmates. Browsing social media it seemed everyone had a solution, but few were viable.
The solution to this issue is not a different venue. THON will never be held in Beaver Stadium unless Terry Pegula builds a dome over the top of it. THON will never be moved away from Penn State to larger venue, either. The solution is not modifying fire codes either; there were very few seats empty during the final hours, a testament to the fire marshal’s accurate count.
The solution to this issue it not requiring tickets to be purchased. The students’ passion for THON has remained a constant over the past $100 million dollars raised for Four Diamonds. Charging $5 or $10 for tickets will not deter even broke college students from standing in line for something they care so much about. Awareness of THON and overall size of the student body has grown, but not enough over the past year to cause the issues in 2013 that were non-existent in 2012.
The solution is revising THON’s policies regarding the most sensitive topic of them all: the families. Four Diamonds added 90 new families last year, and 30 of those families attended THON for the first time in 2013. A family pass allows any holder to enter and exit the building throughout the weekend; for example, they can leave for Make-A-Wish events, campus tours, etc and re-enter without standing in line. However, these family passes must be considered “present bodies” at all times according to fire code laws so the Bryce Jordan Center is never at capacity and a Four Diamonds family is left outside.
The problem is as Four Diamonds matures, the number of THON family passes continue to grow as well. THON recognizes not only the siblings and parents of Four Diamonds survivors, but eventually their spouse and/or children. That equals a lot of “present bodies” counted that may or may not physically be in the building. Sunday is the most popular day families register to attend, explaining line of students at 4am Sunday morning waiting to get into a building that was at capacity, even with most people home or in hotels sleeping.
THON has always been, and will always be, For The Kids. The Four Diamonds families can’t be cut out of THON for this among many more obvious reasons. Although it is clear the current model is unsustainable. As family passes grow it adversely affects the number of students able to attend, and neither Four Diamonds nor the Penn State student body are getting any smaller.
So here we are, at a crossroads for the most successful student run philanthropy event in the history of the world. Will THON continue to cater to the families of the Four Diamonds foundation? Is it possible to simultaneously respect the new families’ right to attend as well as the veteran families’ wishes to continue to experience an event that has meant so much to them. Four Diamond Families will always want to attend THON, and nobody can blame them.
If THON continues with this status quo, it will result in alienating the student body and encouraging scenarios where their health is at risk. The fewer students who are able to attend THON directly leads to fewer students who will be interested in THON in the future. Those dedicated enough will go even further to try to be part of THON, leading to students risking their lives as they did this weekend when the EMS was called to treat hypothermia for those hoping to get inside.
Deciding to alienate the students who work year round or the parents and kids who THON is focused on helping is not an easy decision. Either way, THON needs to change. Since the students raise the money, it would be a riskier endeavor to continue to ignore their needs. I hope THON will find a way to continue to prosper, but something has to give. The question is what.
All we know for certain is this year was the end of THON as we know it.