Hundreds of students will dance for seven hours for a classmate who received treatment at an Indianapolis children’s hospital after she was injured in last spring’s dam tragedy.

This year, Franklin Community High School students set a goal of $40,000 for their annual dance marathon to benefit Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. They are dancing in honor of community members and peers helped by the hospital, including classmate Sarah McLevish, who spent weeks at the hospital after she was injured in a tragedy in June at the Edinburgh dam.

Students at high schools across the county and Franklin College spend hours each school year soliciting donations and organizing fundraisers to benefit Riley. During the past few years, local events have raised a total of about $136,000 for the Indianapolis hospital.

Franklin Community High School, Whiteland Community High School, Greenwood Community High School and Franklin College all are planning dance marathons in the next month. Center Grove has done marathons in the past. Edinburgh and Indian Creek conduct other fundraisers for the hospital during the year.

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Marathons are six- to seven-hour events, where students pay a registration fee and dance. They also hear from families who have been affected by the hospital.

Every high school has a connection to Riley, and everyone knows someone who was treated at the hospital, making the cause an obvious choice for students to give back, organizers said.

“It is an opportunity to give back. So many people in the community have been affected by Riley,” said Shelby Cox, a senior at Franklin Community High School.

Cox is a triplet who was born with a hole in her heart. The surgeries she underwent as a newborn and a young child were done at Riley.

When she started high school, the dance marathon was established. Now, she is president of the group that organizes her school’s marathon.

Getting up early to make a 7:15 a.m. meeting to plan the marathon and organize committees to market the event, solicit donations and call Riley families to speak at the marathon has been her way to give back to a hospital that helped her, she said.

“To me, it might feel like a small amount, but it’s the chance to give back,” she said.

If this year’s goal is met, Franklin Community High School will have raised more than $100,000 for the hospital in four years. Center Grove High School has raised about $14,000 over the years. Franklin College raised $5,757 at its inaugural event last year. Whiteland Community High School has raised about $20,000. Greenwood Community High School is conducting their first marathon this year, and organizers hope to raise $1,200.

Most of the money raised comes from dancers’ registration fee. Student organizers also solicit donations from local businesses. They also organize spaghetti dinners, dine-to-donate events and charity runs during the year, with proceeds going to their final dance marathon total.

Whiteland organized a volleyball tournament to help them make the $20,000 goal, senior Alex Kirk said.

Dance marathons are the Riley Children’s Foundation’s biggest annual fundraiser, raising $4.6 million across the state last year, said Kate Burnett, regional communicators coordinator.

Organizing marathons are popular at schools. Students get to organize a fun event, and the cause touches whole communities, she said.

“Dance marathons are a great way to engage the student body and provide leadership opportunities for students, all while having fun and raising money for a cause that touches students and their families across the state,” Burnett said.

Organizing a marathon that lasts a few hours takes almost a year’s worth of work, students said.

Students apply to be on their school’s organizing committee. They attend summer retreats for ideas and bonding and sometimes to pick a theme for their marathon.

Committee members spend four or five hours a week for much of the school year pulling the marathon together, getting donations, organizing fundraisers, making decorations and finding families who are willing to talk at their marathons about the hospital and how it has helped them.

Cordin Mirise, a junior at Franklin Community High School, has called and emailed about 50 businesses.

If the Franklin group make its goal, they have the chance to get a patient room at the hospital named after the high school, one of the opportunities given to some donors who raise $100,000 or more, Burnett said.

The hardest part of organizing a marathon is getting students to work together for one common goal, Mirise said.

“We are so swamped getting the marathon together,” he said.

At Whiteland, which will have its third dance marathon tonight, National Honor Society students initially organized the event, Kirk said.

As more people heard about the marathon and were touched by Riley, enough students became interested to form a club devoted solely to planning the marathon.

“It grew enough after the first year that it no longer needed (the National Honor Society),” Kirk said. “A lot of people from our school have been affected by Riley.”

If you go

Here is a look at upcoming dance marathons.

Whiteland Community High School

5:30 to 10:30 p.m. today at the school, 300 Main St.

Franklin Community  High School

4 to 11 p.m. March 21, at the school, 2600 Cumberland Drive. 

Franklin College

6 p.m. to midnight, April 11, at the fitness center.

Greenwood Community High School

6 to 10 p.m. April 17, at the school, 615 W. Smith Valley Road.

Author photo
Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2770.