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School proms head for city venues

Jeff Himler
| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 4:57 p.m.

This weekend should be a busy one for many families in the area--as well as for photographers and for purveyors of blossoms and bling.

Today, parents in five local communities will be sending their teens out for an evening of dancing, dining and socializing that has become a right of passage for many. Derry Area, Homer-Center, United, Indiana Area, Saltsburg and United high schools all will be holding their proms this evening. (Laurel Valley High School got a head start with its April 19 celebration, while Blairsville High School will bring the local prom season to a close on May 16.)

Many prom-bound girls will be turning to their moms for last-minute hair and wardrobe adjustments this afternoon. But on Sunday, the teens and the rest of the family will have a chance to show their appreciation by lavishing attention on Mother for her special calendar day.

As with other costs in the United States, those associated with proms are on the rise. Some local prom organizers have reacted by economizing where possible, while others have either maintained the status quo or made more elaborate plans, stepping up fundraising efforts accordingly.

Pittsburgh and its suburbs will be the general destination for most local prom-goers after the formal grand march has concluded at their home high schools.

Tonight, attendees at the Saltsburg prom will board buses to Wexford, for dinner at The Chadwick banquet and meeting facility. After bowling and video games, they'll adjourn to Club Zoo, an under-21 night club in Pittsburgh's Strip District.

While the specific meal and entertainment spots may be different, Saltsburg High School Principal Eric Kostic said this year's itinerary mirrors those of the previous two years--when Verona and Pittsburgh's Station Square were the respective venues for prom festivities.

Regardless of the destination, "The costs aren't all that different," he believes, adding, "It's always a good experience.

In a break from recent tradition, Derry Area's prom couples also will be heading to the Pittsburgh area--specifically, to Dave & Buster's in Homestead, for an evening of fun and games, after dinner at the Sheraton Four Points in Greensburg.

According to Derry's prom coordinator, high school guidance counselor Diane Mogle, this will be the first time students have gone off-campus for prom activities since 1992--when a larger gym became available following school renovations.

Eventually, "It seemed the kids were really losing interest in being at the school. Our numbers were falling," Mogle explained. "They wanted something different, and this will be something different."

To support the more ambitious itinerary, "The kids had to do a great deal of fundraising," she said. Prom tickets this year still cost $125 per couple, but, "They're getting a lot of bang for their buck."

Mogle noted the youngsters are scheduled to spend four hours at Dave & Buster's, until 5 a.m. Saturday, and will have access to a buffet valued at $20 per person and gaming power cards worth $29 per person.

Indiana Area has been staying local with its prom for the past decade or so and will continue with that arrangement this year, High School Principal Paula Daskivich said. After the grand march, there will be dinner and dancing tonight at the local Rustic Lodge.

Then the couples will return to the school for a bevy of night-long activities, including a food court, 3-on-3 basketball, volleyball and other games provided by outside vendors. The event concludes with a 4 a.m. breakfast and awarding of such prizes as a TV.

Daskivich said the event has been a success, with support from parents and businesses, after-school bake sales and funding from a regional foundation all helping to meet the $10,000 cost.

But, as at Derry, she said, there is an interest in doing something different. Though the plan has yet to receive school board approval, "Next year, they're thinking about going to Dave & Buster's," she noted. "Then it would alternate every other year" between on-campus and off-campus proms.

As in past years, Blairsville prom-goers will head to Pittsburgh for their evening entertainment next Friday. But a steep price hike for the usual outing, a ride on the Gateway Clipper fleet, instead will keep the party ashore--at Club Zoo.

"We cut back a little this year. It would have cost $4,000 extra" for the river excursion, noted Helen Faith, an instructional assistant at Blairsville Elementary School who doubles as adviser to the high school's junior class.

Scheduling problems prompted other changes.

Initially, Faith said, Blairsville's prom was to have been held tonight, as well, but a charter bus could not be found for the trip to Pittsburgh.

The school's usual choice for dining, the local Chestnut Ridge Inn on the Green, also was booked up, so this year the couples will have their spread at Pittsburgh's Spaghetti Warehouse.

A bus break-down and some wrong turns played havoc with last year's United prom, held at the Robert Morris Island Sports Complex on Pittsburgh's Neville Island.

This year, school officials said, United couples won't be traveling as far. Dinner and dancing at the Chestnut Ridge Inn will be followed by an assortment of after-prom activities at the Johnstown YMCA. The activities will range from volleyball to donning oversized sumo wrestling suits.

At Homer-Center, prom planners are sticking with the tried and true for tonight's event.

Adviser Chris Yurky said couples will board buses to a local venue, Indiana's Novosel Center, for their primary meal.

They then will travel to Mt. View Inn in Greensburg, for dancing to a D.J., and later will partake in games and be entertained by a magician at Monroeville's Kingston Hall banquet facility.

"These are all places we've gone to in the past," Yurky said. "We just rotate them."

She noted booking three different facilities for various activities "breaks the evening up." Since the group won't be traveling any farther than Monroeville, the transit time between any two locations should not be excessive, with 6 a.m. the scheduled time for returning to the high school.

While Yurky acknowledged prom-related costs have increased, she said it was not a factor in the planning and did not result in a higher ticket price for students. Instead, "We did additional fundraising."

At many of the local schools, teens are encouraged to sign "Prom Promise" contracts, pledging that they won't include drinking and driving in the evening's activities.

Since most schools nowadays bus the students directly from the grand march to activities at other venues, Kostic pointed out, "We limit, probably eliminate, the opportunity for students to take part in dangerous situations. I think it makes us all feel better as parents."

Daskivich said Indiana Area students make their own transportation arrangements for the few miles' trip from the school to Rustic Lodge. If any students are a no-show at the restaurant, their parents will be notified, she said.

When the teens return for after-prom fun at the school, parent volunteers serve as valets--parking cars and keeping keys until the event is over.

Last year, Indiana Area prom attendees passed through a metal detector as a result of vague threats that appeared to target an unspecified prom.

"We had absolutely no problems, and nothing was found," Daskivich said.

As of Tuesday, she noted, there were no indications of any trouble this year, and school officials weren't planning to bring back the detector.

As to why so many local proms are being held on the same day, it appears the timing was triggered in large part by school calendars.

In Indiana County, most schools today will have either a half-day of instruction, as at Indiana Area, or the whole day off.

Saltsburg is taking advantage of one of the snow days it had built into its calendar but didn't need to use, and Blairsville will do the same next Friday.

At Derry Area, there are no classes for students today while instructors will report for half a day.

In each case, there will be extra prep and/or rest time for students and teacher chaperones before they head out for a marathon night that could last 10 hours or more.

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