The phrase "We are Penn State!" took on a whole new meaning this weekend as Penn State's IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon shattered its previous record, raising more than $7.4 million to fight childhood cancer.
You probably know that the 46-hour extravaganza caps THON's year-long fundraising for the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
What you may not know is the special role that Nittany Lion student-athletes play during this very inspiring weekend.
Members of the Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) worked throughout the year, raising funds with a variety of events. Several Penn State athletes and Lionettes participated as dancers, THON captains, and committee members. Penn State football players played host to THON children and families at the Lasch Building as part of a Make-A-Wish function.
But perhaps the most colorful and entertaining contribution by Penn State athletes is their part in the THON Saturday night Pep Rally. Always a highlight of the weekend, the pep rally helps rejuvenate the tired dancers and entertain the THON kids and their families.
The Bryce Jordan Center stage comes alive with not only traditional pep rally fare: the band, cheerleaders, and dance team, but also with songs, dance, and skits by Penn State athletic teams.
Most of the Penn State teams available (not traveling or competing) participate in the show, organized by Captains, Beth Beckman and Altoona graduate and Penn State Blue Sapphire, PJ Maierhofer. PJ choreographed the football team's dance number from the popular movie "Remember the Titans."
"They were so nervous to get up there on the stage," said Maierhofer. "And it was just funny to see 30 grown guys who are in the national spotlight all the time perform like that in front of everyone. It was just really cool."
In fact, all of the varsity teams are familiar with the spotlight: Penn State gymnasts perform under the lights and under pressure in every meet, but not dressed like the "Pirates of the Caribbean." The ice hockey team, which won the performance competition, danced to "Happy Feet" in full-body penguin suits. They put the fear of embarrassment aside to help the cause.
The teams also hosted an athlete hour full of fun and games for the THON kids, providing the families a brief break from cancer treatments and hospital stays.
"This is a great opportunity for the athletes to give back," Maierhofer said. "I can't even express what it meant to the kids to get to hang out with them."
Still, at the end of the day, Penn State's athletes weren't the stars of the show: they were supporting characters in a weekend more significant than a national championship.
The real stars are the dancers who gave their time and energy to endure sore muscles and swollen feet, all for children and their families fighting something far worse than a Big Ten opponent.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.