The proms are over, and students from Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools fan out for post-prom celebrations.
On the west side of town, about 40 teens gather at Broadway Christian Church to roast marshmallows, play foosball and sing Disney songs accompanied by a harmonica. At 3:30 a.m., they get the idea to watch “The Little Mermaid.”
On the east side, another 40 or so gather at La Quinta Inn. They’re well stocked for the party of a lifetime. In one room, cans of Bud Light chill in a sink full of ice. A case of beer waits in the minifridge. Bottles of vodka are scattered around the room. The boys in the crowd of about 20 that come in and out of the room said they each spent between $20 and $60 on alcohol for the night.
Hickman and Rock Bridge each held their proms Saturday night: Hickman at the Holiday Inn Select and Rock Bridge at the Stoney Creek Inn. Seniors plan and prep for prom for weeks, renting just the right tux or buying the perfect dress. They dance, pose for photos and make the rounds while drinking punch. But for many, prom can’t live up to the advance hype. The music is bad. The room is too hot. The punch lacks that certain something.
“The prom,” Rock Bridge senior Cooper Lee said, “is lame.”
That’s why some students said the real fun comes after the official event. Several students at the dances said they had innocent after-prom plans — fondue parties, board games, gatherings at restaurants or at the Broadway Christian Church. Drinking parties, they said, simply aren’t for them.
“I’m likely going to Steak ’n’ Shake,” Hickman student Michael Akers said. “I’m part of a group called HOPE (Helping Our Peers Everywhere), and we try to stay away from that stuff.”
Hickman senior Kate Ryan said she was going to the home of her date, Bobby Adamson, for a fondue party. She said his parents would be there, and she doesn’t drink anyway.
“I just don’t do it,” Ryan said. “I know a lot of kids who have gotten hurt by it.”
Others, however, said the night wouldn’t be complete without booze. Rock Bridge and Hickman students allowed Missourian reporters to enter two rooms at La Quinta Inn between 1 and 2 a.m. under the condition that their names not be used because they were drinking under-age.
“The thing you’re going to remember about prom is leaving prom and getting wasted,” a male Rock Bridge senior said at the party, where dozens of students from both high schools were drinking.
A young Rock Bridge woman agreed. “I can’t even count the number of people who came up to me (at prom) and said ‘I can’t wait to get wasted’ or ‘This would be so much better if I was drunk,’” she said.
The proms themselves went smoothly. Police officers stood watch inside and outside the hotels. Rock Bridge Assistant Principal Kathy Ritter said that with police and about 20 parent and teacher chaperones, there were “no problems at all” at Stoney Creek Inn. She said school officials encourage students to be safe and to avoid drinking and driving.
“We’re aware that alcohol and prom can be a problem,” Ritter said. “We’re not with them after prom. We try to keep kids at a party after graduation, but we don’t have the same thing after prom.”
Capt. Eric White, supervisor of Community Youth Services at the Columbia Police Department, said extra officers were on patrol Saturday night more because of Cinco de Mayo than because of the proms. He said police can’t do much about minors’ parties at hotels unless the businesses ask for assistance.
“We wouldn’t have the manpower to patrol each hotel looking for parties,” White said. “We would respond on an individual basis as with any other calls.”
The parties were raucous at La Quinta, where most of the drinking was concentrated in two rooms. In one, cans and bottles from an 18-pack and a 12-pack of Bud Light littered every flat surface. Some had been downed with a beer bong. Bottles of soda, fruit juice and hard liquor crowded the counter above the room’s minifridge; most were empty by 1 a.m. Dress clothes were piled on the floor, exchanged for jeans and T-shirts or shorts and camisoles. A few students talked about smoking marijuana or taking Adderall, a stimulant used to treat attention-deficit disorder, to get high.
La Quinta employee Theodore Obi said he had only one complaint about noise from the parties before 1 a.m.
“I just try to keep people in their rooms,” Obi said. “I’m not going to kick them out, but I tell them I’ll kick them out.”
Vipoll Patel, who was at the La Quinta front desk Monday, said occupants of two rooms called to complain about noise that night, and one guest filed a written complaint Sunday morning, reporting a lot of door slamming. There were no reports of property damage, and Patel said afterward there were beer bottles and food on the floor, but “nothing that beat my expectations.”
He said seven rooms were rented to students Saturday night. Anyone with a guaranteed form of payment can rent a room at La Quinta, he said, but the hotel reserves the right to deny customers.
Holiday Inn Select, where some students said they would be staying, has a policy requiring guests to be 21. Operations manager Steve Weise said on Monday that guests are supposed to be carded when they check in.
“To our knowledge there were no students staying at the hotel,” Weise said, adding he had heard of no complaints filed that night.
There was no trouble at Broadway Christian Church, where the after-prom party was organized by Luci Fichter, the mother of Hickman senior Lauren Fichter.
Luci Fichter, a 49-year-old who graduated high school in 1975, said times have changed.
“The hotels and the all-night partying wasn’t at all happening when I was young,” she said, adding the objective of the party at the church “was to give kids a safer party option, when so many are renting hotel rooms and staying out all night partying really hard. They’re all hyped up. They want to be together and hang out.”
Lauren Fichter said she wanted to do something different after attending a hotel party last year that she felt was “really stupid.” The church gathering featured food, games of Frisbee, a bonfire, foosball, air hockey and karaoke. Two iPods, spa certificates and movie tickets were given away at the party.
“It sounds dorky, but it was a lot of fun,” Lauren Fichter said. “And we remembered what we did the next day.”
Missourian reporters Julie O’Brien and Lindsay Toler contributed to this story.