STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- One of senior Will Martin's lasting memories at Penn State was when Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno came to rouse some 700 dancers trying to make it through the annual charity dance marathon on campus.
The latest 46-hour event starts Friday, and the twisters and two-steppers say they won't forget the support Paterno offered for their cause.
Paterno, who was 85, died last month, less than three months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, his family requested that donations be made to Special Olympics of Pennsylvania or the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which benefits pediatric cancer research and care. Among students and alumni, it is simply known as "THON."
The event is billed as the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
"We're very happy that they thought of us to be part of that," Martin, the event's operations director, said Thursday about the Paterno family's gesture. "At the same time, with the love he gave to the university, we're not surprised that they considered THON."
The charity raised a record $9.56 million last year. It was one of the area charities championed for years by the Paternos. Joe Paterno's widow, Sue, is also a lead organizer for Special Olympics' Summer Games, held in June on the Penn State campus.
Special Olympics of Pennsylvania president Matt Aaron said this week the charity had received about $80,000 in donations in memory of Paterno. The bulk of the gifts came online, which Aaron said was unusual for the organization.
Some donations came from other athletic programs, Aaron said. Some people made donations of $61, in honor of the number of years Paterno worked at Penn State.
Aaron said he expected Sue Paterno to continue to participate with the charity.
"A heartfelt thank you to the community for the outpouring of support," Aaron said this week in a phone interview. "The number and volume of donations were just a very moving sign of how much the Paternos meant to the broader community."
Representatives for Dance Marathon didn't have a similar estimate of Paterno-related donations, though spokeswoman Kirsten Quisenberry, a senior, said they were still receiving donations in Paterno's name every day.
Organizers for the event, which starts Friday afternoon, spent much of Thursday getting organized for the long weekend. It was unclear whether a member of the Paterno family would attend this year's Dance Marathon.
Despite the long hours, participants are not urged to rely on caffeine to stay up for the weekend. Instead, Martin said, volunteers are encouraged to cut out caffeine and alcohol in early February in preparation, along with eating healthier and getting good nights of sleep.
"You really can't rely on caffeine because of the crashing factor," he said.