Some of the most enduring high-school memories are of the prom. Student-athletes at Arkansas State University recently sought to renew some of those special memories and create a few new ones when the group organized a prom for senior citizens.
The suggestion came from Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President Caitlyn Mitchell. The senior volleyball student-athlete had completed a similar project in high school and, knowing that seniors composed a healthy share of the Arkansas State fan base, she thought the event would be a great way to connect with them on a personal level.
According to Melanie Richardson, associate director of athletics for student support services and SAAC liaison at Arkansas State, the group immediately fell in love with the idea.
"It came up as an idea of what we could do this spring that would make a lasting impact in the community and something we could perhaps build on over the next few years," said Richardson. "It really just took off."
After settling on date for the event, Mitchell researched and contacted several senior homes before being directed to the Jonesboro Senior Life Center, a facility catering to seniors who are living independently but may need a place to stay during the day.
The center's activities director, Kim Pegg, was excited about the idea. While there were volunteers who came in and spent time at the center, it was rare for a group to plan a party or event for the seniors.
"I thought it sounded like a novel idea, and I knew our seniors would enjoy having a special event like that planned just for them," said Pegg. After securing a location, student-athletes solicited assistance from business and collected donations for food, drinks and decorations -- even a corsage and bouquet of roses for the eventual crowning of a king and queen.
Although invitations had been extended to not only the center's residents but also to Arkansas State boosters and other senior homes in the area, the group wasn't exactly sure about what kind of crowd to expect.
"We thought if we could get 20 people, that would great," said Mitchell.
That night, though, Arkansas State student-athletes and SAAC representatives played host to about 50 senior prom-goers. There also were a number of athletics administrators and coaches on hand.
During the first portion of the two-hour trip down memory lane, seniors and student-athletes mingled as they played various card games, board games and dominoes. In a departure from a more traditional prom, the highlight of the evening was a rousing game of bingo.
"You always hear that seniors like to play bingo," said Richardson. "I can tell you at 6 o'clock they started looking around like 'OK, where are the bingo cards.' So, at 6 o'clock we played bingo."
Winners took away Arkansas State paraphernalia such as autographed balls, golf hats and shirts representing various sports as prizes.
Throughout the evening, student-athletes had been studying the crowd for outgoing seniors who would welcome the chance to be crowned king and queen, and after several enthusiastic rounds of bingo, it was time to reveal the selections.
Ben Griffen and Georgia Dunhan took home those honors.
The night ended on a high note, literally, as student-athletes and seniors danced to music ranging from Motown to country.
"Everyone was overwhelmed by how well the hall was decorated and how much work these student-athletes put into the evening," said Pegg. "Our people are wanting to do it more than once a year now. They are saying an annual occasion is too long of a wait. They loved it."
Understanding the value of keeping the momentum going, the SAAC at Arkansas State hasn't rested on its success. Plans already underway for next year include asking the school's jazz band to offer live music. The group also hopes that through word of mouth and promotional efforts throughout the year, the prom will become as anticipated by the seniors as it is for high schoolers year after year.
"This is something we will do, I hope, for years after we're all gone from ASU -- that this will continue to be a big event for the university and the athletics department," said Richardson.