Lions Lend a Helping Hand

Penn State players reach out to THON kids by giving special tours of Lasch Building. The event turns out to be as much of a learning experience for the Nittany Lions as it is for the kids who have battled or are battling cancer.

OK, so maybe it wasn't exactly a marathon.

But at Lasch Building Saturday, nearly two dozen Nittany Lion football players gathered to lend support to the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon going on at the nearby Bryce Jordan Center.

The Dance Marathon, or THON as it is more commonly called in these parts, raises money to help children and their families fight pediatric cancer. Over the past 34 years, it has generated more than $14 million for the cause. It is the world's largest student-run philanthropy.

Each year, kids who have been or are being helped by THON attend the event to lend inspiration to the roughly 700 dancers who participate. And the Lasch get-together, now in its third year, is a chance for those kids and their families to take a break from the proceedings at the BJC while getting a true inside look at the storied Nittany Lion football program.

This year a dozen kids and their families has the red … er … blue carpet rolled out for them at Lasch, the Penn State's football program's luxurious 93,000-square foot office and training facility. Each family had two Nittany Lion players give a guided tour of the facilities.

“This is great,” said Cheryl Karchner, whose 10-year-old son, Charlie, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 5. “It is something he'll remember for the rest of his life.”

Thanks to help from THON, that life is shaping up to be a long one for the boy from West Hazleton, Pa. Charlie went through more than two years of difficult treatment for his disease, including chemotherapy, and money raised by THON allowed Cheryl and her husband Charles to cover the bills at Hershey Medical Center

Charlie has been free of symptoms for more than two years now, and members of his family are nearly moved to tears when they think of the total strangers who aided them.

“It is very heartwarming and something everyone should see,” Pat Karchner, Charlie's grandmother, said of THON. “It makes you look at life a little differently. I'm so proud of my grandson and my family.”

The visit to Lasch was heartwarming, too, but in a different way, especially for Charlie and his sister Kayla. Their hosts were outgoing offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger and laid-back linebacker Tyrell Sales, and the duo immediately dubbed Charlie with a nickname to make him feel like part of the team.

“Chuck, what's taking you so long?” Ohrnberger jokingly barked during one part of the tour. “Move it, move it.”

“Chuck” and the other kids were invited into the Penn State locker room, where they were warned not to step on the giant “S” in the middle of the carpet lest they be forced to pay the standard penalty — 10 pushups. Despite the stern warning, one toddler stumbled over the letter. Since he wasn't quite big enough to do his 10, his host, 6-foot-5, 311-pound Gerald Cadogan, did the pushups with the boy on his back.

Elsewhere in the locker room, kids tried on massive helmets and shoulder pads, and posed for photos with the various players.

Next up was a tour of the trainers' room and then the program's spacious weight room. Then there was a stop in the players' lounge where the athletes and kids played pool (Chuck and Kayla beat Ohrnberger in eight ball) and watched TV.

Charlie (middle) and Kayla (right) took Ohrnberger to school in pool.

Next came a walk through the academic support area, stops in the various position meeting rooms and finally a tour of the coaches' offices.

Then everyone gathered in the theatre-style squad room, where players stood up front and answered questions.

“What is Joe Paterno really like,” someone shouted.

“He's grouchy,” Ohrnberger cracked, then told how the legendary coach likes to kick offensive linemen in the behind if they don't get into a proper stance during practice.

Soon after someone asked who on the team did the best Paterno impression, and all fingers immediately pointed toward walk-on receiver Patrick Mauti. Without hesitation, Mauti picked up on Ohrnbergers' previous comment and broke into his best Brooklyn-ese.

“That's lousy, get down in your stance!” The entire room erupted in laughter.

The tour lasted just over an hour, which was too short as far as Ohrnberger was concerned.

“I love hanging out with kids and goofing around, and this is a great venue for it,” he said.

But the kids and their families had to get back to the Jordan Center. So hugs were shared and hands shaken, and slowly but surely all of the families departed Lasch Building for the short walk to the BJC.

They did, however, leave something behind with the PSU football players.

“They define toughness, these families and their kids,” Ohrberger said. “I can't imagine going through what they did. It's inspiring.”

“For these kids to be able to smile and still have a great day, it humbles me,” added Sayles. “It's unbelievable to hang out with a kid like Chuck.”

For more on THON and to learn how you can donate, visit this link.


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