OAKHURST – A very special night is being planned for Yosemite High School (YHS) graduating Seniors.
On June 7, following the graduation ceremony, participating students will head over to Sierra Lanes bowling alley for Sober Grad, a tradition that dates back decades and costs nothing to the graduates.Students spend the entire night bowling, playing in the arcade, watching top-secret entertainment until finally having breakfast between 4-5 a.m. on June 8, and then going home, hopefully to sleep all day. Did we mention the hundreds of prizes organizers give away, including the car?
Apparently, Sober Graduation started with a car and the potentially devastating results of drunk driving. According to the California Highway Patrol, who first conceived of the event designed to thwart impaired driving on a night of celebration, “Sober Graduation” is both a title and an objective. Originally established by the Department in 1985, Sober Grad is an effective anti-DUI program that targets high school seniors to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
YHS Assistant Principal Diane Adney is in charge of Senior Activities, and together with Culinary Arts Instructor Dena Boorz, is co-chairing Sober Grad this year.
Strikingly, this will be the last year Sober Grad will be held at Sierra Lanes, which has announced its closure and has arranged to graciously remain open to accommodate the YHS graduates on June 7th.
“Sober Grad is their closing event for the year,” confirms Adney, who says the event is extremely popular, and usually begins around 9 p.m. the night of graduation and ends the next day around 6 a.m.
“The kids have a great time. They really enjoy it because they can bowl and play pool and that’s all free, They can play the video games and we actually purchase tokens and hand them out through the night.”
That’s not all that gets handed out during Sober Grad. Kids who attend will be knee deep in valuable prizes, including gift cards and baskets, small appliances, a computer, and even the chance at a fleet car donated by Sierra Tel.
“We have had some very nice cars from Sierra Tel, last year was an SUV,” advises Adney. “Everyone in attendance will get gifts and then we have big prizes. The Elks Lodge lets us use their blackjack and craps tables and then graduates use play money and that’s how they purchase their tickets for our big prizes like car and computer.”
Last year, Bingo was introduced for the first time, according to Co-Chair of Sober Grad, Dena Boortz. “Bingo was extremely popular and we also have entertainment and a wide variety of food,” says Boortz. “We serve breakfast between 4-5 a.m. and our main entertainment is at 3 a.m. but we can’t tell you what it is, it’s top secret.”
Organizers are willing to reveal some of the prizes that will be given away on Sober Grad night. Students must be present to win.
“Usually we get quite a few items from Sears Appliance, so we’ll have dorm type refrigerators and microwave,” teases Boortz. “Some of the gifts we choose, besides a lot of gift cards, are for students moving away from home, including games, recreation items like boogie boards and beach stuff, kitchen and household supplies, and bicycles. We usually set up close to three hundred gifts and that doesn’t include the gift cards. The more valuable prizes are given out at the end. We want them to come to Sober Grad and stay.”
While the school receives no money from the CHP for Sober Grad, usually there are 5 or 6 CHP officers present and one or two will stay all night. They don’t come empty handed, according to Adney, but are there to support kids and help them make continually good choices in life.
“The CHP bring in their little robot car and they have set up a short course that you can ride. You drive it and then they click a button and it makes you like you’re under the influence, in terms of what the depth perception is like. Graduates run into the cones and say ‘oh! I thought I was doing it right!’ It’s a good experience for the kids to know — when you’re drinking and driving — this is how impaired you are.”
Sober Grad on June 7-8 is entirely free for the 2013 graduating class at YHS. Guests are permitted and will be charged a fee, says Adney. “They can bring a guest, for instance a girlfriend that’s a senior at another school or their boyfriend that’s been out of high school for a year. We approve them just like any guest, except, if they can’t bring Freshmen because I want that to be something that is special for the Freshmen to look forward to when they get to be Seniors.”
With this year being one of the smallest graduating classes in recent memory – approximately 140 graduates for 2013 — the Sober Grad committee is hoping for a strong turn-out of more than 100 students. It’s not too late to donate to the cause, Boortz assures. “Gift baskets, gift cards, they’re great because when we give gift cards away we are always attaching it to a gift. Cash or prizes are great, and people could come in and donate water, or different food items.”
Besides the dedication of committee members, Sober Grad is also successful because the community pitches in to help.
“We could not do it without the tremendous support that we get both from the staff and the faculty,” Boortz gratefully reminds. “Bass Lake School district lets us borrow some of their stage and their chairs, while Cal Fire helps and the Cadet Corps help us with set up and we have an incredible amount of high school staff who stay all night – and it is volunteer.”