Experiencing THON for the first time is a thrill for York dancers

YORK, Pa. — The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON, is an unforgettable experience for anyone who attends. For Penn State York students, Hunter Beck, 18, Shawnee Hostetter, 20, and Ryan Manganello, 18, not only will THON 2017 mark their first attendance at the event, it will also provide the opportunity for them to participate in the ultimate THON experience — as dancers specially selected to represent their campus in the fight against pediatric cancer.

Beck, Hostetter and Manganello, along with hundreds of other dancers, won’t be sitting or sleeping for the entire weekend. In fact, the dancers will be on their feet for 46 hours, no-sitting and no-sleeping, to raise funds to support innovative and sustainable pediatric cancer research at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Since pairing in 1977, THON has raised more than $137 million for the Four Diamonds Fund, its sole beneficiary. The Four Diamonds fills in the funding gaps that insurance leaves for the patients it serves, enabling families to focus on caring for their children. This year’s event begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Bryce Jordan Center at University Park, and ends 46 hours later, at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 19.  

The three dancers from the York campus were selected to represent Penn State York Benefiting THON, based on a variety of criteria, including the number of spirit points earned since last September through participation in fundraising activities for THON and the battle against pediatric cancer. THON is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, and the weekend dance marathon is the culmination of a yearlong fundraising effort. This year’s THON theme is “Igniting Hope Within.”

Fundraising efforts for the York THON committee over the past year included two canning weekends (soliciting donations) at several locations in and around the York area; helping with the Poker with Jimmy poker tournament; sponsoring a blood drive with the American Red Cross; helping the Penn State York Alumni Society with a pancake breakfast; a Fall Fest; a spaghetti dinner; and Paw Search, a talent and variety show.  

Julia Byerly, a sophomore at Penn State York majoring in sociology, and Adam Rexroth, a sophomore majoring in human development and family studies, have led the group throughout the year with the help of other student captains, and members interested in finding a cure for pediatric cancer. Byerly had the honor of dancing at THON 2016.

In addition to raising money, THON enables campus students to raise spirits by sponsoring local families dealing with cancer. Members of York’s THON committee have provided encouragement to the families through parties, cards, and plenty of emotional support. The York campus sponsors Autumn Foller, 13, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and is now in remission, and Ava Hagens, 9, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009 and is also in remission. Fuller and Hagens are true examples of how THON can make a difference in lives of children in our own community.

Students involved in THON met weekly throughout the year and will make the trip to University Park to cheer on York’s dancers and all those who are dancing For The Kids (FTK) during the 46-hour event. 

All three dancers who will be dancing for the York campus, are excited about spending time with the kids at THON, their family members, and members of the campus organization.

Beck, a freshman at Penn State York majoring in biomedical engineering, is dancing for his sister, Alyssa, 23, who has been battling melanoma skin cancer for seven years. Alyssa will be attending THON, along with her husband, to support her brother and all the dancers.

“I’m excited for her to feel the support of an entire arena of people fighting for her cause,” he said. “This will be her first time attending THON, and we get to share that experience,” he said.

This is Beck’s second semester being a part of the York THON group. A graduate of Vestal High School, in Vestal, New York, he had never been involved with THON prior becoming a student at the campus.  

A baseball player at York, Beck has been combining baseball conditioning, all-nighter movie nights on weekends, and running every day to get ready for the 46-hour dance marathon. He’s a little worried about eating too much during the event but looks forward to showing off his “sweet dance moves” and kicking back with the kids.

Hostetter has been a part of the York THON group since she was a freshman at the campus. The Red Lion High School graduate first heard about THON back when she was a freshman in high school. She fondly remembers her teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, explaining what THON was and sharing information about the Red Lion High School Mini-THON. She was involved with the Mini-THON all four years of high school.

Although she has never attended THON, Hostetter had a deep desire to dance.

“I wanted to dance at THON because I enjoy the energy, love, and support THON brings to people,” said Hostetter. “THON is one organization that has so much love in it, why wouldn’t someone want to dance for all the families and children we help, to show them they are far from being alone?”

Since her freshman year, Hostetter has served a variety of roles on Penn State York Benefiting THON. She has been secretary, a captain for family relations, and has chaired a number of York THON events, including Paw Search, the talent and variety show. In her role as captain for family relations, Hostetter has kept in touch with York’s THON families and shared information with the group.

Hostetter is looking forward to meeting other dancers, getting to feel the excitement of THON from the floor, and the big reveal of the total amount of money raised at the end.

Eating healthier foods, drinking more water, and going to the gym three times a week are just a few changes Hostetter has made in her lifestyle to prepare for THON.  She has been exercising to increase her leg strength and stamina. Her biggest concern is that she won’t be able to be on her feet the whole 46 hours and that she will push herself too hard. She plans on keeping a positive attitude no matter what.

Hostetter hopes her mother and little sister will be able to travel to THON.

Rounding out York’s trio of dancers is Ryan Manganello. A freshman at York majoring in engineering, Manganello is dancing to support kids with cancer in remembrance of his grandfather, Barry Ilgenfritz, who died of cancer in 2016.  

The Eastern High School graduate heard about THON when his high school held a Mini-THON in 2013. He participated in the event and thought it was incredible. He was amazed to see how many high school students, from his school alone, were dedicated to helping children with cancer.

Manganello joined the York THON group last fall and served as co-chair for its largest fundraising event, Poker with Jimmy.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the Four Diamonds children, other dancers, and the reveal of the grand total at the end of THON,” Manganello said. “My biggest concern is dancing the duration of THON, 46 hours is a long time on your feet with no sleep, but I look forward to the challenge.”

His mother and brother are planning to attend THON weekend.

To prepare for THON, Manganello has been staying active but, at the same time, keeping a better sleep schedule so he will be well-rested for the beginning of THON.

York’s dancers are looking forward to an incredible THON experience,

Anyone interested in supporting the dancers from Penn State York can donate online at http://giveto.psu.edu/THON-York. Please click on “Donate Now.” Donations made to the Penn State York Benefiting THON will be credited to the campus and then added to the final total at University Park. Checks in support of THON should be made payable to: Penn State Dance Marathon or THON, and sent to Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York, PA 17403. Please be sure to note York, Org. 170 in the memo line of the check.

THON is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy, engaging more than 15,000 students in the fight against childhood cancer. THON’s yearlong fundraising and awareness campaign culminates in a 46-hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon every February. Since 1977, THON has donated more than $137 million to Four Diamonds at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, funding comprehensive care and critical research.

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Last Updated February 10, 2017