From Brian Stickler’s perspective, the crowd was enormous. “Nerve-wracking,” as he put it.
In truth, most of Eisenhower Auditorium’s 2,500 seats were empty. Still, a crowd of several hundred cheering college students surely would be unnerving to a junior Marketing major unaccustomed to performing before an audience of any size.
Brian’s partner, however, was unfazed.
Najah Brown is a Lionette. A member of Penn State’s dance team. They perform at sporting events of all sizes, from volleyball and wrestling to men’s and women’s basketball. And, of course, at Penn State football games.
“Performing at Beaver Stadium in front of 107,000 people helped me prepare for this,” said Brown, a junior Broadcast Journalism major.
This, in this case, was the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellic Dance Marathon Pageant – a long name for an event with a single simple purpose: to crown Mr. and Mrs. THON 2017. Pairs of representatives from the 16 committees that plan, prepare and put on THON – Penn State’s annual fundraising dance marathon weekend to benefit Four Diamonds, which provides support for children battling pediatric cancer and their families – compete in front of judges, and a not insignificant crowd, for the honor of being named Mr. and Mrs. THON. It’s like being named Homecoming King and Queen, if that distinction were tied to an event that has raised more than $136 million since its inception in 1973.
“It was a cool experience,” said Najah. “They interviewed us, people want to take pictures with us. It felt like we won a Grammy or something.”
Najah and Brian received a sash, and a slot to perform at some point during the 46-hour THON Weekend. But there was no Grammy, which is somehow appropriate. Her part in the act she performed with Brian was to dance to the a cappella version of “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce (who also missed out on a Grammy this year).
“She’s one of the most incredible dancers I’ve ever seen,” said Brian. “Naj was spinning so fast once I thought the room was going to go back in time.”
Brian’s contribution provided its own sort of time travel. He took “Guns and Ships,” one of the fastest raps from the historical history-making musical “Hamilton,” and customized the lyrics to fit the THON theme. He’s been writing lyrics in private since he was a kid (“Since I can’t sing,” he said), but his THON treatment, so far, is his piece de resistance.
How does a 70s IFC Panhellic dream of a cure
Somehow develop, strengthen and mature
How does it emerge with a selfless demonstration
Set a precedent for schools around the nation
Yo, turns out the volunteers and students
The kids we love, committees, captains, families have proven
We constantly keep fighting and screaming to those who’ll listen
But there’s one committee that brings the hype and will always keep it lit, son
I’m taking this heat out the door, making this THON doper than before
And I’m never gonna stop until I raise the money, send it off and come up with a cure.
Brian’s parody is a bull’s eye, in that it keeps the spotlight not on the performer but the cause: the Four Diamonds families. The children are the reason THON exists, and they remain top of mind in all facets of the event. Even emails from THON royalty contain the familiar shorthand, #FTK: For The Kids.
“The judges asked Brian if he could sum up THON in one word, and he said, ‘Magical,’ ” said Najah. “And that’s what it is. To watch everyone come together for the families, for the cause. That’s why we’re here.”
As THON Weekend (Feb. 17-19) gets underway, show your support by visiting a dedicated site created for them by our sister site, Campus Causes, then selecting any one of the 80 student campaigns and shopping popular brands who give a portion of each purchase back to THON.