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Beginner’s Guide to THON

When I attended my first THON in 2011, I had no idea what to expect. I had been involved with THON my entire freshman year through my commonwealth campus, Penn State Altoona. I had watched the videos, looked at the pictures, and stayed updated with my THON family’s blog, but none of this could have prepared me for the moment I walked into the Bryce Jordan Center.

Whether you are a committee member, org member, or a total THON newbie, I am here to prepare you for THON weekend, and to help the whole thing feel a little less intimidating.  Here is your unofficial beginner’s guide to THON weekend.


FTK — I know, it seems basic, but there has been a time in everyone’s life where these three little letters didn’t mean anything.  FTK is THON’s most famous slogan and stands for “For The Kids.” You will hear FTK chants, see FTK shirts, and I’m sure you can spot these three letters in a number of other places, but hopefully after going to THON, you’ll understand that FTK feeling a little better, too.

Inspire Tomorrow’s Miracles — This is the theme for THON 2013. Each year a new theme is chosen and is incorporated throughout the entire weekend—last year’s theme was “Brighten Every Journey,” the year before that was “Together Without Limits,” the year before that was “Love Belongs Here,” etc.  The theme is what ties THON Weekend together. There is also always a logo designed for each theme, so you will spot that on the giant banner behind the stage.

Four Diamonds/Four Diamonds Fund — The Four Diamonds Fund is the fund to which the money raised from THON is donated. The fund was created 41 years ago when a boy named Christopher Millard wrote a story about a knight who had to collect four diamonds (courage, honesty, wisdom and strength) in order to defeat an evil sorceress. The story is a metaphor for Chris’s battle with pediatric cancer, and the fund was created in his honor.

Dancer — This year a record of 710 dancers will stand for 46 hours. Though the whole Dance Marathon is considered a no-sleeping, no-sitting Dance Marathon, these 710 dancers are the ones who have made the commitment and been selected for their efforts.

Moralers — Each dancer is paired with a Moraler for the weekend to support them (physically AND emotionally) in the 46 hour journey they go through THON weekend. Their committee wears yellow, and they are generally seen wearing really ridiculous things. Moralers are imperative for dancers’ success THON weekend.

R&R — Short for Rules and Regulations, these are the people who are responsible for maintaining the safety of THON at all times and are always wearing red. Sometimes they have to enforce rules that may seem stupid, but just do everyone a favor and listen to them. Save the sass for someone else!

Line Dance — The Line Dance is a yearly tradition created by the Morale Captains. It features pop culture references as well as things that have happened around Penn State this year. The purpose of the Line Dance is to stretch out the dancers, so it is performed approximately once every hour. You know the Line Dance is coming when you hear the infamous line “MORALE CAPTAINS, TO THE STAGE!”

Overalls — The Overall Committee is comprised of 15 people, one Overall Chair and 14 committee Overalls. They are responsible for maintaining every aspect of THON, from fundraising, to rules, to merchandise. If you think about this as a family tree, the Overall Chair is the Great Grandparent, and the Overalls are the Grandparents.

Captains — This is the “ranking” below overall. Captains serve under each overall for the 14 various committees, and the captains of most of the different THON committees (like Morale and R&R, as we mentioned) are in charge of their own committee. Continuing with the family tree reference, Captains would be the Parents!

Committee members — Those who serve under Captains. Still going with the family tree reference, these are the Children.

Orgs — Any organization that fundraises for THON is considered an “org.” There are different types of orgs, but we wont get into all of that. These are the people filling the stands all wearing matching shirts and sometimes crazy hats (looking at you, Ohana). They would be the hundreds of Cousins on the family tree.

Floor — This is a term used to describe the “dance floor” or “event floor.” Basically this is where the dancers stand for 46 hours. In order to have access to the floor, you must be a dancer, Captain, or committee member, or be on a Pass List. This brings me to my next point:

Pass System — Basically my archenemy, at least up until this year (sorry R&R). The pass system is the way that THON is able to control how many people have access to the floor at one time. In order to get a pass, you have to be on a list before THON. Orgs are only allotted so many passes at one time, so if an org has a pass available you will have to wait in a line to receive that pass and get access to the floor.


Will Martin — Will is the THON 2013 Overall Chair. Basically he is the president of THON. (If you ever say his name to a committee member, they’ll probably respond with a weirdly-voiced, “WILLLLLLL MAHHHHTINNNNN!” thanks to this year’s Committee of the Week videos shown at committees’ meetings each week).

Barry Bram — Barry is THON’s advisor and is usually in the Line Dance at some point. He’s awesome.

Christopher Millard — The boy who wrote the story of the Four Diamonds and inspired the Four Diamonds Fund.

Charles Millard — Chris Millard’s father who along with his wife, Irma Millard founded the Four Diamonds Fund.  Charles is always at THON and usually speaks around Family Hour.

Larry Moore — THON’s DJ. Larry not only danced in THON in the 70’s, but he has attended every THON since.

Rules to follow:

Don’t sit in the BJC — This is the biggest rule for THON weekend. The dancers will be standing for 46 straight hours, and the last thing they want to do is look up into the stands and see thousands of people sitting on their bums relaxing. Stand up and have a great time (or face the wrath of R&R).

You can only enter in through gate B from 11pm-4am — This is pretty self explanatory, but there are a lot less people in the BJC at this time, so it makes it easier to control the flows of traffic.

Don’t drive around — Chances are you will be exhausted from being in the BJC for awhile, so don’t plan on driving to and from THON. The Blue and White Loops will be running for 24 hours a day, so do everyone a favor and nap on the bus, not while your driving.

Don’t swear — This is a kid friendly event, so keep the words G-rated. You wouldn’t kiss your mother with that potty mouth, would you?

Don’t show up drunk, high, or under the influence of anything —This should go without saying, but THON is not the place for that. You will probably lose all respect from everyone if you don’t follow this rule.

Don’t be rude to anyone for any reason — Don’t push, name call or do any of those unnecessary things. Whether you are waiting in line to get into the BJC or are on the floor, play nice with everyone.

Don’t bring open containers between 11pm-4am — They will ask you to dump out any contents in an open container during these times.

Don’t pick up kids you don’t know — Always ask a child’s parent before you pick a child up or take them somewhere. You never know if a child is on active treatment, so they could be in pain. There will also be many new families there, and the idea of strangers picking up their children can make them uncomfortable.

Things to bring:

A small water gun, snacks (no large quantities), bottle of water, crazy clothes, signs, a fully charged phone and camera, bubbles, a tennis ball for your feet (you will thank me later), fanny pack, tutu, and anything else that might entertain you or anyone else!

Things to leave at home:

Silly string, super soakers, cases of water, and entire pizzas(?).

Events during the weekend:

I would type these all out, but here is a link that explains these better than I could.

Other tips from a THON veteran:

Don’t think that you can show up at any time and walk right in — The BJC will reach capacity at various times throughout the weekend, so if you are planning to go for any big events (pep rally, last four hours, pre-THON), get there early.  Last year the BJC reached capacity on Sunday at about 7:00 a.m., so don’t plan to show up at 12:00 p.m. for Family Hour

Keep moving — Being in the stands can sometimes be more difficult than hanging out on the floor. Be sure to take a walk around the concourse when you are starting to tire. Also be sure to bring a change of shoes.

Take care of yourself! This was a big mistake I made last year serving as a THON Chair. Your body needs to get all of the energy it can from other sources since it isn’t getting it from sleep, so be sure to eat regularly and drink lots of water.

Have fun!!! This is the most important! THON can get really hectic at some points, but remember that you are there to have fun, and make sure the families are having fun! If you get a chance to talk with a family or interact with a child during THON weekend, be sure to take advantage of it. Seeing a bald-headed cutie run around with a smile like not a single thing is wrong with the world is one of the most unforgettable experiences you will have, and it’s your chance to be a kid again!

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About the Author

Mara Kern

Mara is a senior majoring in public relations with a minor in business. She is from Cranberry Twp., PA and enjoys blogging, cats, tweeting, and not wanting to graduate.

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