Class of 2020 en­joys be­lated prom

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By MIKE URSERY murs­ery@ches­pub.com

Dun­dalk is known as a place where the com­mu­nity steps up dur­ing des­per­ate times, and Aug. 15 was no dif­fer­ent.

Four months ago, ev­ery high school se­nior in the state of Mary­land re­ceived the har­row­ing news that all ath­let­ics and ac­tiv­i­ties were can­celed for the re­main­der of the aca­demic year. That in­cluded se­nior proms, leav­ing a vast num­ber of high school se­niors with­out their fi­nal tra­di­tional high school event, ex­clud­ing grad­u­a­tion.

When the word that proms were can­celed came down, Dun­dalk res­i­dent Ann Unger said she felt a whirl­wind of emo­tions for her daugh­ter Vic­to­ria Unger, who re­cently grad­u­ated from Pat­ap­sco High School and Cen­ter for the Arts. With the help of the Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion and sev­eral lo­cal busi­nesses, Unger and oth­ers or­ga­nized a se­nior prom for the out­go­ing se­niors who saw theirs can­celed in April.

“We got the word from the su­per­in­ten­dent that all se­nior ac­tiv­i­ties were can­celed,” Unger said. “We were sur­prised. The very next day I was go­ing to the dry clean­ers to get my daugh­ter’s prom dress.”

“We had al­ready got­ten the prom dress and ev­ery­thing. [My hus­band and I] both work and we wanted to have ev­ery­thing lined up. When we got the word on that, we got the call from Mark Phoe­bus that night.”

Phoe­bus is the post com­man­der at the Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion. He told the Ea­gle back in May that he wanted to al­low peo­ple to use the Le­gion’s ban­quet hall as a venue to hold a se­nior prom. The Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion has been the site of mul­ti­ple blood drives. The Cho­rus of the

Ch­e­sa­peake held its in­au­gu­ral Christ­mas fundraiser at the ban­quet hall last De­cem­ber.

“On be­half of stu­dents who worked so hard for 13 years to grad­u­ate, I be­lieved it was tragic to can­cel their proms,” Phoe­bus said. “We un­der­stand the dan­gers of the coronaviru­s, but knew in time they should re­ceive the honor they worked so hard for.”

“The Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion works hard to sup­port our com­mu­nity and I per­son­ally be­lieve it was an honor for us to stand by these stu­dents.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought harsh conditions that forced pub­lic school districts across the coun­try to make tough de­ci­sions to post­pone, or can­cel, ath­let­ics and ac­tiv­i­ties. In Mary­land, schools closed on March 12 and stu­dents and teach­ers were forced to adapt to distance learn­ing.

“We were more than sur­prised that he do­nated the hall,” Unger said. “Af­ter that, I just ran with it. I just thought, ‘You know what, we’re go­ing to give them a prom.’ Even if it’s later, af­ter grad­u­a­tion and be­fore they go to col­lege, we’re giv­ing them a prom. Not just our daugh­ter, but all of them.”

Unger said the decision was an­nounced with­out warn­ing. No town hall events were con­ducted to seek in­put from par­ents or stu­dents. No one sought opin­ions from par­ents, she said.

Unger said that the plan­ning for the Dun­dalk prom be­gan in April. The over­all goal was to make the Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion’s ban­quet hall into a safe en­vi­ron­ment. Unger said that masks were re­quired to en­ter the build­ing, and some­one was posted at the door to conduct tem­per­a­ture checks.

Peo­ple could only take off their masks if they were seated at a ta­ble and eat­ing. Masks were re­quired for danc­ing, min­gling, mov­ing about the ban­quet hall and all other ac­tiv­i­ties where so­cial dis­tanc­ing was not pos­si­ble.

Prom can­cel­la­tions came at a time of great un­cer­tainty. Mary­land had not yet en­tered Phase 1 of Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s Mary­land Strong: Roadmap to Re­cov­ery. Large pub­lic gather­ings were not al­lowed, and events with groups of more than 10 peo­ple were also not al­lowed. Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools de­liv­ered a voice­mail in April to par­ents of BCPS stu­dents from Su­per­in­ten­dent Dar­ryl Wil­liams, say­ing that the school district had to com­ply with ex­ec­u­tive or­ders handed down by Ho­gan and Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive John Ol­szewski, Jr.

“I was putting in­for­ma­tion out ev­ery week about what we were go­ing to do,” Unger said. “It was go­ing to be a while be­cause we had to wait for the phases and ev­ery­thing to lift be­fore we could ac­tu­ally pro­ceed.”

Michael Unger, Ann’s hus­band, sent a let­ter to Rod McMil­lion, the 7th District rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Bal­ti­more County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, af­ter the can­cel­la­tion an­nounce­ment. In it, he told McMil­lion “I was dis­mayed be­cause this decision was made with­out in­put from par­ents of the com­mu­nity, and with­out con­sid­er­a­tion for ob­vi­ous al­ter­na­tives such as de­lay­ing and post­pon­ing these events to a date af­ter the COVID-19 re­stric­tions had been lifted. Other Mary­land Coun­ties such as Prince Ge­orges, through their CEO of schools Mon­ica Gold­son, had al­ready gone on record en­sur­ing their 2020 Grad­u­ates, re­fer­ring to Prom/Grad­u­a­tion, that ‘No mat­ter when it has to take place, we will re­as­sure our class of 2020 that they will have an op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in this mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion.’”

Unger said the plan­ning be­gan in April, but the ex­cite­ment be­gan to pick up over the last two weeks be­fore the prom. She said she wasn’t able to choose a date for the prom un­til July. From that point for­ward, she and a group of vol­un­teers got started on dec­o­rat­ing the ban­quet hall and sched­ul­ing all of the necessary ar­range­ments.

Unger said the prom was decorated with the school col­ors of all three area high schools – green and gold for Dun­dalk High School, red and blue for Pat­ap­sco High School, and blue and white for Spar­row Point High School. Things rolled from there, and she be­gan pick­ing up dec­o­ra­tions from dif­fer­ent places.

“The good news is that I had a lot of this stuff al­ready done,” Unger said. “The only thing I had to do was nail down the ven­dors with the food. That was the hard­est part.”

Unger said there were three sets of prom roy­alty in at­ten­dance dur­ing the evening – one couple from each school. Vot­ing was open dur­ing the prom, and the win­ners were an­nounced later.

Vic­to­ria Unger said her mother “did a very good job” of putting ev­ery­thing to­gether so she and other Class of 2020 grad­u­ates could en­joy a se­nior prom. She said it was a great night and she and her friends had a lot of fun. It was cer­tainly a bet­ter feel­ing than what she felt the night she learned her own se­nior prom had been can­celed.

“I thought peo­ple were play­ing a prac­ti­cal joke on me,” she said about get­ting the news that day. “I didn’t be­lieve it, but then, like ev­ery­one else, I learned that it was ac­tu­ally true and I got up­set.”

Unger said that lo­cal busi­nesses who as­sisted with mak­ing the Dun­dalk prom hap­pen in­cluded: Sign-o-Rama, Squires, Scoozi’s, Pa­trick’s, Tony’s Pizza, KJ/DJ An­nette and Wild Bill, Amer­i­can Le­gion Post 38 and Boule­vard Diner.

PHOTO BY ANGELINE HELBRIGHT

Class of 2020 high school grad­u­ates do the Elec­tric Slide dur­ing the 2020 Dun­dalk Prom. The Dun­dalk Amer­i­can Le­gion do­nated its ban­quet hall for the oc­ca­sion, and Dun­dalk res­i­dent Ann Unger and other par­ents went right to work to give the Class of 2020 a be­lated prom.

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