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From The Sidelines To The THON Stage: Penn State Cheer’s THON Journey

Carter Kelly, like many other Penn State cheerleaders, spends the majority of his time cheering from the sidelines for various sporting events and activities.

This weekend, though, Kelly and a few of his teammates are cheering for a different cause as they take a stand as some of THON’s 592 dancers.

Kelly started off his time at Penn State not knowing much about THON but quickly came to know and love the organization so much that he fully dedicated himself to it. After joining the cheerleading team as a freshman, Kelly looked up to his older teammates for the best ways to get involved with THON.

Courtesy of THON

“The seniors on the team [Kelly’s freshman year] were telling us all about THON,” Kelly said. “And I said to myself, ‘OK, I need to get involved someway, somehow, Let’s see what I can do.’ But I didn’t want to overstep any seniors, and I also wanted to take a step back and learn.”

Kelly hosted as a freshman what would end up being one of the final formal canning trips in his home in South Jersey.

“We were on the boardwalk, and in the first hour, we made $1,000,” Kelly said. “We were having the greatest time ever. We were in our uniforms doing band chants and this and that…and I realized this whole experience was just so incredible.”

Courtesy of Carter Kelly

Kelly said when he got closer to the team’s THON families, something clicked inside him. Seeing the way pediatric cancer permanently changed the lives of the THON families he interacted with was an emotional realization, but also a motivating one.

“Aubrey’s parents are just so welcoming. They really took us in as like their own children…We did everything we could for Aubrey. She came to some of our practices, we wore Aubrey t-shirts, we did everything to include her as if she was a mini-cheerleader on our team,” Kelly said. “She was like our mascot. We have the Nittany Lion, but then we also have this little girl named Aubrey who we would do anything in the world for.”

Courtesy of THON

While Aubrey’s family has since moved away from Penn State, the team still considers her a part of their family, along with their new THON child, Emma.

The Penn State Cheer Team often has an exciting presence THON weekend, and despite this year’s events being held virtually, that’s not stopping the team from trying to make it as special for their dancers and families as possible.

The team’s booster club has been helping them financially organize and plan events for the team this weekend. The four dancers for the team will all dance together from the cheer house and have the support of their teammates and parents to push them through.

Rooms inside the house have been transformed, furniture has been cleared, and spaces have been specifically set up for activities like painting, dancing, exercise, and stretching.

Kelly said that being a part of the cheer team has made such a big place like Penn State feel small. He’s found his family, he’s found his people, and he’s found his purpose through the team.

Together, they all dance together in search of a cure. They dance for Emma and Aubrey, too.

Courtesy of Carter Kelly

“We’re very approachable, fun-loving people who put that Lion on our chest and represent not only Penn State but alumni around the world as a whole,” Kelly said. “Sometimes it’s not about Penn State as a whole, but it’s about the little organizations and the committees and sports teams who are building up what Penn State THON and THON families work toward.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a junior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]


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