JERSEY CITY, NJ - At 10:00 a.m. on February 24, 2015, more than 500 members of the senior class at Jersey City’s Dickinson High School filed into the school’s auditorium. Because senior class advisors, John Barth and Jaime Barker, had intentionally left the purpose of the assembly a mystery, excitement buzzed through the room as students eagerly awaited the much-anticipated announcement.
Over the past 24 hours, students had made several haphazard guesses as to the purpose of the meeting, with one student even suggesting that there would be a surprise visit from Kanye West.
Nope, no Kanye. He was quickly forgotten.
Cheers erupted in the auditorium when students were told they will be accompanied at their senior prom by the fittest man in the NFL—New York Giants punter, Steve Weatherford.
For the second year in a row, Next Level Training (8 Ridgedale Avenue, Cedar Knolls), Weatherford’s off-season training facility, is excited to announce its involvement with Weatherford on the very meaningful initiative, Project Prom. An essay-writing contest with the overall theme of helping students overcome adversity, Project Prom gives five essay contest winners and their dates the ultimate prom experience, which includes complimentary prom tickets, transportation, dresses, tuxedoes, flowers, and hair/makeup services.
At the assembly, Barth and Barker unveiled a video message from Weatherford, introducing Project Prom to the Dickinson senior class.
“Each year, the Project Prom initiative tackles an important issue, and we invite high school seniors to write about it,” Weatherford said in his video address. “This year, the topic is bullying. Ninety-percent of kids in this country have either been bullied or know someone who has. We have to put a stop to it, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on how.”
This year’s essay topic specifically invites students to explore what they can do personally to take a stand against bullying and to defend their peers when the situation calls for it. Students are asked to keep in mind their own personal experiences with bullying and to consider how those experiences would influence their decision to do the right thing, even if they saw their friends bullying someone else.
Barth encouraged the senior class to write thought-provoking essays that avoid simple platitudes and instead dig deeply into the issue of bullying.
“Have some solutions for him,” said Barth. “Have some real-life experiences. We need to get the word out there that [bullying] is something that can’t belong.”
Donald Shauger, Next Level’s owner, spoke at the assembly on behalf of both Weatherford and Next Level Training. Shauger talked about Weatherford’s own experience with bullying in his youth, as well as the determination, drive, and fierce training ethic that ultimately brought Weatherford great success. Weatherford’s own life experiences have fueled his dedication to helping others to follow their dreams.
“Think about it: We all some way, somehow, have been a victim of bullying or have seen bullying,” said Shauger. “But bullying is totally wrong.”
“Steve made sure of two things,” said Shauger. “Number one: he was going to take care of his body—the right way. Number two: when he knew he was going to be successful one day, he was never going to forget where he came from.”
Shauger gave students the brief history behind Project Prom. In its inaugural year, Project Prom was held at Long Beach Island’s Southern Regional High School to benefit students affected by Hurricane Sandy. Given that Weatherford and Shauger hatched the idea for Project Prom after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the essay topic for last year’s contest centered around the effects of Hurricane Sandy on Southern Regional’s seniors and asked students to reflect upon the lessons in adversity they learned.
After last year’s winners were chosen, Weatherford and Shauger attended the Prom, where Weatherford posed for photos with students and danced the night away!
Shauger issued a humorous warning for Dickinson seniors planning to attend prom.
“Be ready to be out-danced by Steve Weatherford.”
Dr. Frederick Williams, Principal of Dickinson High School, expressed his gratitude to Weatherford, Next Level Training, and the Steve Weatherford World Champion Foundation for bringing Project Prom to Dickinson High School this year.
“Our students at William L. Dickinson High School are deserving of this, and we thank Mr. Weatherford for this opportunity,” said Williams. “We look forward to having him come to the prom on May 8th at Mayfair Farms in West Orange, and we are also looking forward to learning who the winners will be.”
Weatherford will be the final member of a panel of judges to review the essay submissions and choose the five winning essays. Other members of the Project Prom panel include Bruce Beck, NBC News 4 New York Sports Anchor; Duke Castiglione, Fox 5 New York Sports Anchor; John McKeon, Assemblyman for New Jersey Legislative District 27, who also sponsored anti-bullying legislation in New Jersey; Nuno Francisco, President of the Boys and Girls Clubs in New Jersey, for which Weatherford is the Health and Fitness Ambassador; and Allison Stangeby, Director of Community Relations for the New York Giants. The five essay contest winners will be announced on April 2, 2015.