It is no secret that Penn State is a world class party school. Like a powerful gravitational force, this reputation attracts ever more students who like to party, perpetuating Happy Valley's status as the number one party destination in Pennsylvania for the under 25 set. But even Penn State has three sober weekends during the school year, with very few DUIs or other alcohol-related charges like underage drinking, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct or criminal mischief. These quiet weekends include the weekends before Fall and Spring finals as well as THON weekend. Some students, especially seniors, do not have any finals, so finals weekend is for celebrating, while very few students get rowdy on THON weekend.
It might be hard for current students to believe, but THON was not always the big deal it is today. Only a small percentage of students participated, and it really had no impact on the weekend for anyone outside the Greek community. Some people would stop by for a few minutes to support their friends, but other than that, it was just another weekend of bars and parties. But that all changed when the Bryce Jordan Center replaced tiny venues like the White Building and Rec Hall. The much larger BJC allowed THON to grow into the major production it is today and made THON more than just a fraternity and sorority side show.
A side effect of the bigger and better THON is that THON weekend is calm and quiet. This is more than welcome by local police, as well as the adult State College residents who are always complaining about the antics of drunk students. The biggest resource for underage drinkers is the fraternities, and they do not have any parties on THON weekend. Likewise, there are not many house or apartment parties either. The bars see a strong decline in the number of students, which makes THON weekend an ideal time for "old" people like me to hit downtown bars, which would normally have a line.
Of course, we all know what comes the weekend after THON! On State Patty's Day weekend, the well-rested livers of Happy Valley are doused with enough booze to more than make up for the sober THON weekend.
Matt McClenahen is a Penn State alumnus and criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania. He has represented many people over the years charged with alcohol-related offenses. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Alcohol-Offenses-DUI.shtml