THON 5K, runners begin race

Runners line up and anticipate the start of the annual THON 5K on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021 outside of the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. Hundreds of people participated this year.

This Sunday, Penn State’s Alumni Blue Band Association will conclude its second virtual 5K.

Having started on Saturday, this fundraising event allows Blue Band supporters to donate and run for the organization, with the eight-day window of time giving participants the chance to run in their own way and on their own schedule.

Accounting alumnus from 1991 and former Blue Band member Doug Czekaj said he played golf and walked for his version of the 5K.

“Right now we're in the middle of it, people are posting pictures of [their] various races,” Czekaj said. “Everybody [is] doing their own little thing, which is then fun to see. People have their dogs on [leashes] and [things] like that.”

An agricultural graduate of the class of 2000, Julia Stack is a former member of Blue Band and the head organizer of the virtual 5K.

Describing herself as “an avid runner,” having run several 5Ks and 10Ks, Stack said she wondered why Blue Band did not yet have a fundraising marathon while other Penn State organizations like THON did.

“When I was on the Board of Directors for the Alumni Blue Band Association a couple years ago... I had this idea of, ‘Why isn't there a Blue Band 5k? We have them to support every other group on campus,’” Stack said. “So we talked about doing one in person, and we talked about doing it [during] We Are Weekend because a lot of alums come back, it's a great time to run.”

With the spread of the coronavirus, however, Stack said the costs of organizing a safe marathon exceeded the estimated profit.

“Penn State charges a lot of money to run a 5K on campus, and the conservative part of me wasn't sure whether the means were [worth it],” Stack said.

She and the ABBA were expecting around 100 to 125 total participants to sign up. With an entrance fee of $35, their initial goal was $5,000, according to Stack.

To Stack’s surprise, they “hit [their participant goal] last year in the first 48 hours of it being open.”

“This was a brand new event that nobody knew was coming, and we just started posting about it on social media with the Alumni Association and through all the contacts we could find. Then the Blue Band picked up on it, and they started posting…” Stack said. “The next thing we knew last year, we had 514 people sign up for this brand new event in 12 weeks.”

In total, the first virtual 5K raised over $23,000, according to a release.

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Czekaj said the virtual 5K also recovered some of the money the ABBA did not make last year, as there was no Homecoming event or football tickets to sell to Blue Band alumni.

“Literally every dollar that we got from the event went back to the band, especially because we didn't have Homecoming, which is another one of our major fundraisers for the Blue Band. So we felt last year [the 5K] was the right thing to do,” Czekaj said. “This year, I think we're going to do the same thing, but on top of that, we'll have Homecoming. So it'll be great.”

Blue Band President Gabriel Newvine said people participating in last year’s and this year’s 5K received a packet with a T-shirt and a letter of thanks from the Blue Band Director Gregory Drane, displaying the organization's “attitude of gratitude.”

Newvine said he and the Blue Band Officer Board aided the event by packing and mailing the participant packets.

“So what we did was we just set up like a production line, and some people folded the shirts, some people put the letter in [the packet], and then we packed them all up and got them sent out,” Newvine said.

Stack said the Blue Band mask offered for $10 last year is still a hot item for this year’s event.

“Everybody wanted a mask last year that said ‘Penn State Blue Band’ on it. I mean, where else are you going to get one?” Stack said. “And people were asking for it afterwards. So we offered it again this year, and we sold more.”

The virtual aspect of this year’s and last year’s 5K has been an asset in bringing the Blue Band community together, according to Czekaj.

“[The event] unites the Blue Band extended family and the campus family in a way that we can share pictures and videos and other things that allow people to know we're in touch,” Czekaj said.

Stack said she believes the involvement of Blue Band parents was integral to spreading the word about the event and gaining participants, describing them as being “very, very, very passionate” in their support.

While Newvine is not participating in the 5K due to his own time commitment to Blue Band, he said “quite a few” Blue Band members are running, as well as his mother.

“I'm rooting her on, she's carrying the torch for our family,” Newvine said.

Since anyone from the public is able to donate and join the 5K, the wide variety of participants in the event helped the 5K gain support, Stack said.

“It's not just the people that were in the Blue Band trying to relive the glory days,” Stack said. “It's people that love the Blue Band and want to support them and help them out and let them know that they're not alone.”

Newvine said all of the money donated to the ABBA and the 5K goes to the Blue Band Legacy Fund, which helps the band purchase important items like new instruments and uniforms.

Growing the fund is “really important as an alum,” and the 5K was “a really good way” to do so, Stack said.

Czekaj said he was pleased with both raising money for the Legacy Fund and how the fundraiser was a way “for people to unite the community of the Blue Band family.”

“Overall, the entire thing is a success, and then on top of it, to be able to give money back to the band is just icing on the cake.”

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