Derby High School students will get their Holly Ball after all.
Principal Tim Hamblin, who threatened to cancel the winter formal last month because of what he called widespread “unacceptable” behavior, said students learned a lesson and worked hard to earn back the privilege.
“I needed to get their attention, and I did,” said Hamblin, who announced this week that the Holly Ball would be held as scheduled Saturday night.
Hamblin canceled the dance last month after some rowdy Derby students – jumping up and down during a Hutchinson-Derby football game – caused about $2,600 in damage to bleachers at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson.
He said Wednesday that the damage was embarrassing and expensive but just one of several concerns he had about student behavior that prompted him to cancel the school’s annual winter formal.
This school year more than ever, he said, students were leaving trash all over campus. They were using profanity during football games, showing up late to class and roaming the hallways during daily study halls.
Damage to the bleachers in Hutchinson was “the final straw,” he said.
“When it comes to sporting events, we’ve got a great student section in terms of numbers and support,” Hamblin said. “But at one point we had the use of profanity during kickoffs, and behavior that just reflected badly on our school.
“It got to be more of a mob type behavior and mentality, and I told them that’s not the standards we have at Derby High School.”
McKenna Reynolds, a senior, said she was shocked, disappointed and saddened last month when the principal told students the Holly Ball was canceled. She already had picked out her dress and made plans to attend.
“I did not see that coming at all,” she said. “I knew we were going to get talked to because of what happened at Hutch, but I didn’t think we’d have a consequence as big as losing Holly Ball.”
She and other students responded first with anger – “I didn’t think it was fair to punish everyone,” McKenna said – but later with action.
They began picking up trash in parking lots and elsewhere on campus. They raised more than $600 to help pay for the bleacher damage. (The rest came from the school’s budget.) They established a revised, G-rated “Go, Panthers!” kickoff chant.
McKenna and others in her advisory class started patrolling hallways for errant students.
“Some students were mad and just kind of blew it off and said, ‘Whatever,’ ” said senior Kelsey Case. “But a lot of students really did step up to the plate and start changing things.”
Hamblin noticed. So this week, he gathered students for another assembly and told them he was proud of their turnaround.
“The decision was not one I made easily,” said Hamblin, a 1984 graduate of Derby High.
“I knew that taking the shotgun approach versus the rifle would draw comments. … But I wanted to use it as a teaching moment. I told them they were going to be leaders someday, and leaders often have to make decisions that are not popular, but they’re the right thing to do.
“I didn’t have a single student come up to me upset or saying that what I was doing was not right,” he said. “That tells me they knew, as a group, that what was happening wasn’t right. But they had a chance to straighten up, and they did.
“I’m extremely proud of them.”
McKenna said she’s looking forward to Saturday’s dance, which seems even more special because it almost didn’t happen.
Will students go back to their unruly ways after the Holly Ball? Unlikely, Kelsey said.
“Nobody wants to lose prom.”