Class of 2020 enjoys belated prom
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.
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.