Penn State does its part to better the lives of cancer-stricken youth

D1A Rugby: Penn State does its part to better the lives of cancer-stricken youth
Photo Credit: Penn State Dance Marathon

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, more commonly referred to as THON, is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, and has been raising money to support children diagnosed with cancer since 1977.

Since its inception, THON has raised over $114 million, with each year breaking the previous year’s record for dollars raised. The upward trend of fundraising is sure to continue with the inclusion of the Penn State Rugby program to this annual event.

In 2013 the men’s and women’s teams at Penn State began dedicating countless hours towards their own fundraising efforts that helped the 2014 THON event reach $13.34 million – nearly all of which goes directly to Four Diamonds.

Locally based and operated, Four Diamonds supplies financial support to childhood cancer patients and their families. Other than the assistance of covering hospital bills, Four Diamonds supplies specialty care providers that are not typically covered by insurance, including musical therapists, clinical nutritionists, psychologists, and pastoral care for cancer-stricken children. With an eye on the present and future, Four Diamonds has founded its own Pediatric Cancer Research Center focused on improving treatment of the disease, as well.

Now that the teams have a year of fundraising under their belts, the Penn State Rugby program is confident it can make a greater impact on this year’s THON. Leading the charge for the Nittany Lions has been Ryan Abbonizio and Cassie Stockhausen. The two veteran rugby players have been busy organizing corporate donation efforts and what the program calls ‘canning weekends.’ During these weekends, members of the rugby teams go beyond the city limits of State College to fundraise in front of stores, businesses, and intersections. The players happily accept spare change to large dollar bills with a can in hand.

The Penn State ruggers have been thrilled to add to the millions generated by THON, but Stockhausen believes the teams have reaped the benefits from working as a rugby program rather than individual teams.

“It’s been really cool working together,” said the senior full back. “We don’t get to do a lot together, so this is one of the things that made us closer as a program – more unified.”

Abbonizio, a junior lock for the eighth-ranked Nittany Lions, agrees that THON has improved the dynamic between the two teams, and enriched his on-campus experience.

“There is a lot of interaction between the men’s and women’s teams, and I’ve been able to meet and build friendships with players on the women’s team that I otherwise wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for THON,” Abbonizio said.

It is a good thing that two leaders of Penn State Rugby’s THON efforts have not grown sick of one another, because Abbonizio and Stockhausen are hoping to be selected as two of the 700 students to participate at the 46-hour dance marathon Feb. 20-22. The dance marathon is THON’s culminating event and, amazingly enough, thousands of Penn State students enter a raffle hoping to spend nearly two full days on their feet in an impressive visual statement that symbolizes the student body standing up for children diagnosed with cancer.

Abbonizio has his fingers crossed that he and Cassie will be part of the dance-crazed hundreds at the marathon, and also hopes that “our trainer takes it easy on Cassie and I that week at practice,” in preparation of a weekend that won’t let the two sit down, let alone sleep.

On the pitch, both teams are once again having successful seasons. The women won the Fall Championship, which places them in the May 9 USA Rugby College Championship Series, where they will have the opportunity to defend their National Championship. On the men’s side, the Nittany Lions have held firm to their top-10 D1A ranking all season, and picked up a marquee victory over Davenport in September. The team’s résumé should see them into the 2015 D1A Rugby Playoffs.

Anyone inspired to support Penn State Rugby, THON, and Four Diamonds can make a donation to Penn State Rugby’s THON fundraising page: