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Virtual THON’s Success Paves The Way For Future Celebrations

Despite encountering a seemingly infinite number of challenges and hosting a purely virtual event, THON 2021 raised more than $10.6 million For The Kids this weekend. Safe to say, it was still a smashing success.

According to THON 2021 Public Relations Director Sam Koon, more than 165,000 unique viewers from approximately 70 countries tuned in to THON 2021’s livestream, hosted and produced by 46Live. Last year, THON’s stream brought in about 130,000 viewers.

Naturally, it’s no wonder THON’s top brass felt proud of the weekend’s accomplishments.

“That magic of THON has reached so many more people than we would’ve been able to have in the Bryce Jordan Center with us, so we feel really, really good about how far we’ve been able to spread our mission this weekend,” THON 2021 Executive Director Katie Solomon said following Sunday’s total reveal.

For the fifth straight year, THON’s fundraising total cracked eight figures. Although it didn’t surpass 2014’s whopping $13.3 million, Solomon felt the fundraising effort is extremely telling of the THON community’s dedication.

“[The total] represents to me that THON is resilient and it’s strong. And we say that every year, it’s always been true. But I’ve never felt that strength more than I have right now,” Solomon said. “$10.6 million is a representation of every single person in the THON community…literally every person you could possibly imagine that’s even whispered the word ‘THON,’ they made that possible.”

Suzanne Graney, executive director of Four Diamonds, agreed with Solomon and felt THON 2021’s final total reflected the THON community’s passion and drive to continue its pursuit of a cure despite the many challenges the past year brought.

“I just can’t stop smiling,” Graney said. “Just complete pride in what the students have made happen and relief for our families to know that the communities are going to support this mission through thick and thin, no matter what may come…I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”

Entering the weekend, many folks at home wondered how dancers would fare without the support of an entire arena behind them at all times. THON 2021’s 592 dancers spent the weekends in their homes, dorms, or even native countries while receiving support from loved ones and Dancer Relations committee members.

Koon said it was a healthy weekend overall. THON responded to a few “COVID-related” reports, likely concerns about guideline compliance, but didn’t observe any “major concerns” outside dancer fatigue.

The organization implemented mandatory dancer rest hours between midnight and 6 a.m. each night to provide much-needed breaks and address THON’s lack of resources for every dancer scattered around town. During each six-hour period, 46Live’s stream stopped broadcasting live packages.

Moving forward, Koon and Solomon said THON hopes to incorporate some of the most successful aspects of its virtual celebration when planning for future events.

“The opportunity to have something [this weekend] so different from what we’re used to means that we now have the resources of an in-person and a virtual THON Weekend to bring into future THON Weekends and future events,” Koon said.

Koon touted THON’s spectator and theme hour guides that gave viewers at home new resources and ideas for activities. Traditionally, those “assets” would be available only to folks at the Bryce Jordan Center.

She also felt THON 2021 gave the organization a better opportunity to engage families who wouldn’t be able to attend in person, pandemic notwithstanding. THON sent them boxes filled with activities and included them in “exclusive events” to ensure they stayed involved.

“We wanted to make sure that those watching the livestream are just as in the loop and feel just as engaged,” Koon said. “Moving forward, even if we are able to have something more in person, we want to make sure everyone in the community can remain as engaged as possible.”

Four Diamonds co-founder Charles Millard said he enjoyed the added emphasis and focus on featuring Four Diamonds families throughout THON Weekend — something he felt was more challenging in years past.

“It’s just astounding to have one organization sort of competing with the other, that is, the pandemic and THON, and we came out on top compared to the shutdown that the pandemic caused,” Millard said. “There was no shutdown at Penn State.”

Graney added she enjoyed the “quiet” of this year’s THON, as folks at home could tune in without a bumping basketball arena in the background all weekend long. Solomon, meanwhile, said she missed the “deafeningly loud” THONs of years past that often turned sleep shifts into wishful thinking.

“What I told myself and what I realized as the weekend went on is that THON’s magic and THON’s ability to bring people together is annually so concentrated in this building. You can feel it everywhere you go, every inch of the space. It’s just full of love and magic,” Solomon said. “And every ounce of that has been dispersed around the state, around the country, and around the world. As selfish as it is to have wanted it here with me, I know that it was brought to everyone’s homes, and I feel like that in itself, no matter what the fundraising total was, no matter how many people tuned in, that is what our goal was.

“It’s been quiet, but it’s been the most meaningful silence I’ve ever experienced,” Solomon said.

Following some much-deserved rest, THON will get back to work and begin preparing for next year’s celebration. Solomon said the organization will begin by naming THON 2022’s executive director sometime in the next few weeks.

“Fingers crossed that next year is a little bit more normal, and I just cannot wait to see what THON does in the future,” Solomon said. “I’m sad to graduate, of course, in May, but I’m going to cheer THON on from the front row for the rest of my life knowing that this organization can do anything.”

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt is a junior majoring in journalism and Onward State's managing editor. He's a huge Philadelphia sports fan, fantasy football aficionado, and washed-up drummer hailing from Collegeville, Pa. The quickest way to his heart is Margherita pizza. He loves Seinfeld, is really into video games, and would wipe the floor with you in Halo. Follow him on Twitter @mattdisanto_ for bad sports takes or email him at [email protected]

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