For Toms River High School South seniors, their prom was truly a night to remember.
More than 270 students dressed in tuxes and dresses gathered in downtown Toms River Thursday night for their final formal event, with dinner tables set up outside town hall, a giant ferris wheel parked near a softball field and Washington Street transformed into a lively dance floor.
“The second they got there, their eyes lit up. They had such joy and excitement, just to be able to spend time with their friends and be able to have a normal life and go to a dance,” said co-advisor of the senior class Christine Scherm.
Planning for the unique prom began about a month ago. In mid-April, outdoor gatherings were limited to 200 people in New Jersey and wearing masks outside was required, but Gov. Phil Murphy eliminated those rules last week, taking away the final obstacles for some larger schools trying to organize proms.
Parents, businesses and other members of the Toms River community stepped forward to make the memorable prom happen, donating everything from food and drinks to centerpieces and balloons, Scherm said. Local restaurants donated food, while other businesses donated time and money, she said.
Twinkling lights strung across the road hung above the dance floor as a D.J. played hits. Kids could grab food from the Lavellette-based Ohana food truck.
“Everybody coming together and joining forces to make a great night for seniors who deserve to get that night, it was amazing,” Scherm said. “It’s gonna be very memorable (for students)… These kids are never going to forget their prom was downtown.”
A Brick party entertainment company called Chubby Penguin donated balloons, centerpieces and other decorations for the event, in addition to their time.
Thanks to the donations, prom tickets were a low $40 per ticket instead of the usual $100 to $150 per ticket, said Principal Mike Citta. The event’s cost was covered through volunteerism and donations, and ticket sale revenues will go toward other senior events, he said.
“It was more than just a prom,” Citta said. “It was a celebration and almost a healing to the emotions and the exclusions that they’ve had for 14 months. The looks on everyone’s faces was remarkable. Probably the most proud moment in 25 years I’ve had in education just being a part of something like that.”
Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill said the school worked with the county for approval to close streets for the event. Police closed Main Street to Hooper Avenue for safety purposes, though the event was held in a smaller area between Robbins Street and Courthouse Lane, he said.
The pandemic impacted many student activities, including sports, so it was important the students get a prom, Hill said.
“It was just a really great evening for the kids who have been denied a lot over the past year,” Hill said. “I think they’re finally getting back to some sense of normal… It’s been a tough year for everybody, but particularly for the kids.”
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