THON file photo 2014

Participants sing and dance in the final hour of Penn State’s THON, in the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University, in this 2014 file photo. The dance marathon fundraiser is going online in 2021.

Next year, the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State won't be filled with its usual mid-February cacophony of dancers, live-music performances and an audience screaming loudly in celebration over the millions of dollars raised for families of children with cancer.

Because of safety concerns surrounding large crowds amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State's annual THON fundraiser will not be held in person in 2021, Penn State announced Friday.

It's is being planned, instead, as an online event.

THON, the annual dance marathon in which hundreds of students dance for 46 hours, with thousands of volunteers raising millions for the Four Diamonds Fund, will be held virtually the weekend of Feb. 19-21, 2021.

Fundraising for THON is done year-round by thousands of student volunteers. The THON weekend in February serves as the culminating celebration, building to the announcement of how much was raised over the past year.

"Over the next few months," the THON website says, "we will be organizing and planning a virtual event featuring student volunteers, Four Diamonds families, guest speakers, performers and more." The website says that dancers will still be involved in some way in 2021, and that more information will be available in the coming months.

“While we may not be able to gather in person in February, the spirit of our shared mission remains true," Katie Solomon, a Penn State criminology and sociology major and executive director of THON for 2021, said in a press release Aug. 14.

"Our student volunteers, Four Diamonds families and community can rest assured that, even if we cannot physically gather, the fight against childhood cancer won’t stop until there is a cure," Solomon said. 

For more information about how THON is being transformed into an online event, visit the event's frequently asked questions page.

Since its start in 1976, THON has raised more than $180 million for families of children with cancer. In addition, 90,000 high school student volunteers across Pennsylvania — including many in Lancaster County — raised more than $5.7 million through Mini-THON events in 2020.

The Four Diamonds Fund, through the Penn State Children's Hospital at Hershey, offers financial and emotional support to families with children who have cancer.

The fund's origin story has a Lancaster County connection. 

It's named for an allegorical story about a knight, which was written in 1972 by Chris Millard, a student at Elizabethtown Middle School. When Chris died of cancer, his parents, Charles and Irma Millard, submitted the story to those creating the new fund to support families of kids with cancer.

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