For about 25 years on the Friday before Prom, just under 100 prom committee volunteers flooded the halls after school, glue guns in their hands and determination in their eyes.
They had one mission: transform the whitewashed walls and tiled floors of Dexter High School into something unrecognizable, something fit to host a prom for hundreds of juniors and seniors.
And for almost a quarter of a century, they’ve succeeded with the extreme makeover. In just over 24 hours, they’ve created enchanted forests, Mardi Gras festivals and schools of witchcraft and wizardry.
But this spring, the prom committee won’t need to wield their staple guns and extension cords. Instead, breaking with tradition, the junior-senior prom will be held at University of Michigan’s football stadium a.k.a. “The Big House.”
How did it get this way?
According to student council adviser and high school teacher Al Snider, there were two major factors that led to the venue change: liability and a declining number of volunteers.
“It became harder and harder for the prom committee to make it as big as they wanted,” he said. “I know people are busy, and the committee was having a tough time getting people to help.”
In fact, at one point a few years ago, some students were given the responsibility of a couple halls due to a lack of parent volunteers.
According to Paula Staebler, chair of the prom committee, parents are busy and oftentimes over committed, which is probably the main reason the numbers of volunteers have dwindled over the years.
“Because of the extent of time, energy, and creativity that is needed, many parents just cannot commit to such an undertaking,” Staebler said. “A committee chair spends at least three months planning and executing their ideas, and the weekend of prom they literally spend the entire weekend at DHS.”
So, as Staebler put it, the new location will make this year’s prom “kinder and gentler for the volunteers.”
The number of volunteers was shrinking, and, although the prom committee was never actually cited by the fire marshall, the concern about liability was growing. Sprinkler heads, fire alarms and fire extinguishers at the high school were covered up by decorations and creating a fire hazard.
And just last year there was a slight snafu in the “Nearlyweds” game room, where one of the powerstrips became overheated and started smoking.
“That really clued us and the administration in that we needed to look elsewhere because of the liability issues,” Snider said.
And so began the hunt for a new venue. Other locations on the U of M campus such as the League and the Union, as well as Eastern Michigan and Washtenaw Community College’s new venues were all in the running before the final decision was made. Staebler said she was brainstorming with her son, junior Tristin Staebler, and one of her son’s friends, junior Chris Ryan, when having the prom at Michigan Stadium came up.
“I quickly, as we were sitting there talking, emailed the contact at the Jack Roth Stadium club,” Staebler said. “And the idea was born.”
How is it playing out?
Despite the drastic change in venue, many of the aspects that made up former proms will still be present this spring.
For example, neither Snider nor Staebler predict that the price of $35 a ticket will change much.
According to Snider, the price has been the same for about 10 years, a factor that will be taken into consideration when deciding this year’s ticket cost.
“If it did increase, it would not increase more than $5 per ticket,” Staebler said. “Prom ticket prices have been the same for a number of years, so an increase would not be unreasonable.” Many of the games and activities that have made an annual appearance at former proms, will also make the trip to The Big House.
“We store the poker tables and the putt-putt in the building at Creekside,” Snider said. “We just have to trek it a little bit farther, as opposed to around the corner.”
Staebler agreed that the prom parent volunteers will try to keep the games consistent, too, in order to maintain the integrity of past proms.
“We are hoping to keep some of the same old favorites available for the students, to keep the same feel as in years past, just in a new format,” she said.
The prom will also still be theme-based. This year’s theme, decided by an upperclassmen vote, is “Under the Stars.” However, decorations will not hang from the walls and ceilings like they have in the past, due to the same liability issues, according to Snider.
As for venues in the years to come, Staebler wants to keep her options open, but she is also considering having prom at The Big House each year.
She said, “I would like to see how it goes and possibly keep it there.”