HUDSON — The biggest cheers at Hudson High School's senior awards breakfast Tuesday went to three classmates who weren't there.
Anthony Siciliano, Chris Jennett and Melvin Velez earned praise for whipping up school spirit. They served as DJs at parties and as senior officers.
Jennett was honored as most dedicated and the class MVP. Siciliano was deemed most likely to join the faculty after college.
"If I had to name the top five most involved kids in our class, those three boys would be in the top five," said class president Brooke Taylor. "We gave them a standing ovation. We all screamed because they should have been there celebrating with us."
That's why their forced absence from the breakfast — and from all other school events including the Friday night graduation — rankled classmates so much. As they poured out of the Spartan Manor restaurant, they spoke angrily about their principal's decision to bar the three from walking at commencement over what the students considered a minor prank.
"We want to graduate as a class, as a whole," Karryn Bundt said of the tightly knit Class of 2009. "We don't want anybody left out."
According to most accounts, the boys commandeered the school public address system on the last day of classes and sent out a message asking all seniors to come to the senior stage near the cafeteria. Some came. Most knew it was a joke. The kids considered it harmless, much less intrusive than some of the other pranks that kids had talked about pulling.
But the administration wasn't laughing, particularly after someone pulled the fire alarm shortly afterward.
Principal Dave LaRoche called the disciplinary matter "private" and said he would not provide details to explain his stance.
"Very often, administrators are in a position where they have to make a decision and that is what happened here. We are not happy about it. It's not fun. But it is just a decision that had to be made," LaRoche said. "We made a decision, and we're sticking with it."
The Jennett and Siciliano families did not want to comment for this story. The Velez family could not be reached.
Members of the senior class gladly filled in the void, from their perspective. The word "ridiculous" came up often.
"They've done everything for this school," Scott Combs said of his friends.
"They're the ones that everybody knows," added Bobby Kruse.
"I'm sorry, but one little prank like that shouldn't get them expelled from graduation," Samantha King suggested.
The administration, they said, overreacted.
"Disrupting the last day of school? What are they disrupting?" wondered Lauren Smith. "We didn't start rioting in the classrooms."
But they do have some ideas in mind for how to show their support for their classmates, who they feel have been wronged.
They talked of wearing black armbands at graduation rehearsal this morning. They're planning a protest rally afterward, somewhere near the school.
Some of the students suggested they might not walk when their name is called Friday night, or they might skip graduation altogether, to show solidarity with the three boys.
"I'm pretty sure we'll do something special if they're not there," Combs said, holding out a glimmer of hope that LaRoche might reverse the decision.
Assistant superintendent Jim Davis, himself a former high school principal, cautioned against making rash moves based on emotion. Not all the facts are known publicly, he said, and the principal's action came only after careful consideration.
And that's not always an easy choice, acknowledged Davis, who has had to stop some seniors from attending graduation in the past.
If anything, he said, they should be upset at the students for violating the code of conduct. "The administration didn't do anything wrong."
That's not how members of the senior class see it, though. They said the school leaders encourage school spirit and then get upset when a few of the most spirited seniors get perhaps a bit carried away on the last day of high school, a day when everyone is excited.
"They want to punish these boys for something that didn't bring harm to anyone," said Taylor, the class president. "It's just ridiculous."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.