BUCKSPORT, Maine — For all of Maine, it has been a long, hard winter. But nowhere is that more true than in Bucksport, where a series of tragedies has created tensions in the close-knit community and led to months of gloom hanging over the corridors of Bucksport High School.
Happiness has been hard to come by in the mill town on the Penobscot River in a school year that included the death of 15-year-old cheerleader Taylor Darveau in an October car accident. The driver in the accident, 16-year-old Samantha Goode, was charged in April with manslaughter and driving to endanger. Additionally, Bucksport students have mourned the deaths of two parents and one teacher over the winter.
“It’s been extremely hard. Heartwrenching. It’s been very sad,” Davis said.
That sadness, though, lifted on Friday, a day when the long-awaited sun appeared and seemed to shine brightly both outside and inside the school walls. Administrators and some parents had spent the last three weeks organizing a surprise field day for the entire high school, with the intention of getting the students to smile.
“It means everything to see them happy,” said Prudy Davis, whose daughter is a senior and who helped spearhead the secret event. “It’s what it’s all about.”
That’s why Davis knocked on the doors of local businesses to ask them to contribute to gift bags and door prizes that would be given to the students during the Friday field day. It was hard to keep her activities secret from her daughter, but it was all worth it, she said, adding that the community response has been incredible. The owner of Family Fun Lanes in Bangor gave tickets for 800 strings, and had them made up in the school colors of purple and gold, she said. Everyone wanted to contribute to the cause.
“They were all more than willing to help,” Davis said. “They’d read about us. Thought that our town definitely needed something to get the kids back on track.”
After students raptly watched Bangor magician Bruce Johnson perform during a morning assembly, they scattered to take part in activities that included singing karaoke in the parking lot, sumo wrestling and taking their best shot at dunking teachers and administrators in a tank of water. They waited in line to enjoy a chair massage from a volunteer professional massage therapist, cheered on the singers, giddily danced around with their friends and smiled in the warm spring sunshine.
“I was expecting it to be a regular day,” said Caity Worcester, a 17-year-old junior from Bucksport. “This is fun.”
Her friend Esther Shinn, 16, also a junior from Bucksport, said that the year had been hard.
“It’s been very challenging for this whole town. It hasn’t been a very good year,” she said. “This is a really fun day to just let go. To relax, have fun — and watch the teachers get dunked.”
Principal Dan Clifford said that the day is meant to be a celebration of the students. This year, the social worker at the high school and the guidance department have been on high alert, helping the students navigate their grief. Tensions at times have been high, and the tragedies have led to a feeling of community division so strong that five area clergy members wrote a letter to media outlets in April calling for forgiveness and healing.
Clifford said he hopes the field day will lead to a positive end to the year.
“The seniors deserve a great last six weeks,” he said.