NEW PORT RICHEY — Silly string, air horns, crowd surfing, “Happy Graduation” balloons, last minute hugs and yearbook signing. The “seniors!” chant and the collective call for principal Randy Koenigsfeld to be hoisted high to ride the crowd all before the cafeteria clock strikes two. Then comes the final count, “ten, nine, eight …” — all meant to coincide with the closing bell on the very last day of classes for seniors.
It’s all part of the “senior countdown,” a unique and long-held tradition for those who are about to graduate from Ridgewood High.
Ask around and you’ll find it’s tough to pinpoint just when the tradition began. Perhaps in 1986, with the first senior class to graduate from Ridgewood High? “I know they’ve been doing it at least since 1992,” said the principal’s secretary, Cathy Tezbar. “My son was a freshman here then and I remember him talking about it.”
“Couldn’t tell you,” said Lanny Wells, an instructional assistant watching over the ebbing crowd Tuesday to make sure no one got out of control. “They started it who knows when.”
This year’s countdown started right about 1:45 p.m. Tuesday with a trickle of seniors burgeoning into a crowd of more than 300 in the middle of the school cafeteria.
“It’s kind of chaotic,” said senior Jeremiah Gomez, who hovered safely on the outskirts.
It was also “exciting,” Jeremiah said as he reflected on the past school year. “The first day (of school) was like yesterday. It went by in a flash. In the blink of an eye.” That was the sentiment of many who gathered in the cafeteria to make a lot of noise for the very last time. In counting down their final moments as seniors, they realized the high school years had gone by too fast.
“They’ve been here for four years, and it seems that all of a sudden it’s over with,” said Koenigsfeld, who, as principal, has been doing the crowd-surfing stint for six years now.
“This is a good group of kids,” he said of the Class of 2009. “A fun loving group of kids that seem to enjoy every day. They manage it well. I think they’re going to be fine.”
“It just went by really fast,” said Tia Cooke, who was making her own kind of noise with a royal blue party blower. “I’m going to cry soon.”
Joan Walter was doing just that along with sophomore Michael McLeod, who snuck in to say goodbye to the upperclassmen.
“It’s sad,” Joan said, as she wiped tears from her face. “A lot of these people I’ve known since my freshman year and a lot I won’t see because they’re all going to different colleges.”
“It’s sad but it’s exciting, too,” said Jordan Onstad as she exchanged hugs with her best friend, Jonathan Shiner, who heads out July 9 for naval training. “Everyone’s leaving. It’s going to be hard to stay in touch.”
“I’m going to cherish this,” said class valedictorian Andrew Stagner, who promises to deliver a clever speech during the school’s graduation ceremony on May 29.
No doubt there will be a lot of ground to cover and plenty of memories to reflect on between now and then.
“Homecoming week, spirit night, all the sporting events I’ve been involved in. It’s all been great,” he said. “And this day. I’ll always remember this day.”