Margaret J. Wheatley asserted, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” This statement rang true across Huntingdon County in the twelve hours between 6 p.m. March 1 and 6 a.m. March 2 as high school students across the county danced in the annual CHAMP marathon. With nearly 600 students and five participating schools, the event raised a record-breaking total for local families in need.
This year, CHAMP took place at the Juniata Valley High School gym. The event rotates among four of the participating schools each year. This was JV’s first time hosting. It was the fifth year for CHAMP, which is an acronym for Creating Hope and Making Progress. Jeremy Crouse, the mentor and founder of the event, remarked on this milestone, “It’s a big deal for us to get to the five-year mark. It’s a ton of work, and we weren’t sure how long it would last. The student captains have really taken over the last two years. I’m super proud of them. Mount Union had the most students participating.”
On the day of the marathon, each student sported a different colored CHAMP T-shirt for their school colors; for example, Mount Union’s shirts were blue and gold. This created a visual representation of this year’s theme, “Ohana.” This word is in reference to the Disney movie “Lilo & Stitch” and means “family.” The use of these shirts defined the high school families within our overall Huntingdon County CHAMP family, and in doing so strengthened both of them.
Throughout the night, there were numerous friendly competitions, such as lip-sync battles and ships and sailors. Sometimes schools banded together, but often, they integrated to form teams. While each school arrived in one shade of color, when the festivities began, the dancers blended together to create one swaying, dancing, kaleidoscope of a community. This sense of community is fueled by the reason they’re uniting: to raise money for local families in need.
In the opening ceremony, Crouse gave a brief explanation of CHAMP’s history, how it has impacted Huntingdon County in the past and introduced the captains. The CHAMP captains are the student coordinators, of which there were several from each school. Maci Blair, a CHAMP captain from MU, described the duties of this position, “That role included much work such as visiting local business, holding assemblies throughout the district to talk about CHAMP, many meetings, and simply posting all over social media to get the word out. It was very rewarding though, and I wouldn’t have given up this experience for the world.”
These captains took turns introducing some of the families that the money would be benefitting. The students heard the stories of each person they were going to be helping, and for many that is what made the night memorable. Junior Konnor Getz admitted, “I don’t remember all that much about the night since it all kind of blurred together, but I’ll always remember the young girl who said, ‘My mother and I used to dance together in the living room all the time. Please dance for her since she can’t anymore.’”
Blair agreed, explaining that her desire to help others in this endeavor was actually her motive in seeking her position, “I decided to be a captain because I believe this is such a great cause, and every amount of help could go such a long way. Some of the lives lost were lifelong friends of my family, and I want to make sure their legacies live on. “
It is safe to say that Blair, along with the hundreds of other dedicated volunteers who made the event possible, succeeded in this goal. In fact, they exceeded the financial goal, which was originally $50,000. Since the marathon, over $65,000 has been raised for families in need, $12,291 of which was generated by Mount Union. This is an incredible accomplishment for a community of our size, and that was evident in the reception of the total Sunday morning. Although the dancers were exhausted, the jubilation in the gym was palpable as participants screamed and cheered when the numbers were revealed. As enjoyable as an all-nighter with their friends was, these kids have also created a family that helps take care of other families and remembers those they’ve lost. They proved, as Stitch so eloquently stated, “Ohana means Family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”