The Student News Site of Summit High School

The Summit Pinnacle

The Student News Site of Summit High School

The Summit Pinnacle

The Student News Site of Summit High School

The Summit Pinnacle

Summit Seniors Storm into the Spotlight

The Thunder Pageant has changed sparrows’ lives in the past and brings new changes this year
Photo+courtesy+of+Layla+Parker
Photo courtesy of Layla Parker

Every March, Summit seniors spend a night in the auditorium dancing, singing and competing with a partner to win the Thunder Pageant. It’s a 20-year-long tradition that, in years past, has often raised upwards of $50,000 for a good cause.

All the fundraising is thanks to Sparrow Clubs USA, a nonprofit organization that has its roots in Washington. The nonprofit’s aim is to support families and their children—called sparrows—with crippling medical bills by turning fundraising to schools and has been present in Central Oregon for over 20 years. In Bend, several high schools (Bend High, Mountain View and Summit) will all “adopt” a family for the year and put on a pageant where students compete for the most funds raised. All of the money is then gifted to the family.

The Thunder Pageant has been around since Summit opened its doors back in 2001. Many of today’s traditions were founded by Reno Holler, current vice principal and former activities coordinator. Holler had a large role in making the pageant what it is today.

“We end each show by bringing the sparrow and the family up on stage and everybody sings ‘Lean on Me’,” commented Holler when asked about original traditions. He started this particular one in the early 2000s, and although it hasn’t happened for a few years, hopes to see it happen again soon.

In fact, the Thunder Pageant was a sort of bonding ritual for Summit students after it first opened. Many were wary about attending a new school, but everyone loved fundraising. Summit quickly became the most-desired school for sparrow families to be adopted into, largely because of the effort and time that our community has put towards raising money.

“One thing that was always popular was the sparrow,” Holler said, referring to Summit’s early days. “The thunder pageant was always a sellout. The crowds just got so big.” 

This year’s sparrow is 4-year-old Quinn, who has been diagnosed with severe autoimmune pulmonary capillaritis. Only 10 other children in the US share this rare diagnosis, which requires her to be on immune suppression tablets and often results in extended hospital stays.

Nineteen pairs of seniors have stepped forward to compete in this year’s pageant, a record high following last year’s 11 pairs. The goal: to raise as much money by Feb. 2, when the top 10 couples will be selected to participate in the event itself. Contestants have already begun the extensive fundraising, often reaching out to local businesses to help.

“Progress has been great,” said Lilann Hammack, who is competing alongside her partner Max Himstreet. “We’ve had one really successful fundraiser at Trampoline Zone so far, with a good turnout.”

Hammack felt compelled to participate after watching the annual Thunder Assembly last year, where contestants performed in front of the whole school. Immediately afterward, she asked Himstreet if he too wanted to compete in the next year. 

“I feel like growing up in a school where we lived off of fundraisers and donations to not be shut down really connected me with this idea of giving back and helping others in a similar way that they helped me,” Hammack said, reflecting on her inner drive for fundraising. “I can’t even imagine how overwhelmed [Quinn’s] parents feel with medical bills, let alone having to take care of Quinn and her other 5 siblings. We just want to make them feel more comfortable and less worried about the money so they can focus on Quinn.”

Student Council adviser Jake Oelrich, who is in charge of the Thunder Pageant, is looking forward to see just how much Summit’s thunder pairs can help Quinn.

“I think it’s going to go well,” said Oelrich, who is implementing new changes this year to increase fundraising and school-wide support. One such way is through inviting previous sparrow families to share their experiences with the thunder pairs.

“The couples seem excited and engaged. We had a guest speaker who was a parent of a thunder recipient in the past come in and speak about what he was able to use the funds for, and how it made it so that his wife didn’t have to work for a year so she could stay home and take care of her child. The car broke down on the way to the hospital once, so they were able to pay for a repair on the car.”

In addition, Oelrich is also pioneering a new system for the first time this year: rather than choosing ten thunder pairs at the beginning of the year, he’s allowed anyone interested to participate. That way, students will have more of an incentive to fundraise and more couples will be allowed to help in the preliminary rounds before the cutoff date. And so far, this strategy seems to be working.

“Compared to last year, it feels competitive,” Oelrich said. “It feels like, because there are more couples, they’re all working extra hard. We had 11 couples working hard, but now we have 19 couples working harder. So it’s like, even if we had 11 couples working harder than last year, we’d make more now that we have 19 couples.”

Oelrich also plans to introduce the Thunder Games this year. Similar to past lunchtime competitions, thunder pairs will attempt to win small games, during which students can donate via a QR code. All the money raised in that time period will go towards the fundraising of the winning team.

In past years, some students have been hesitant to participate because the pageant feels rigged, as some families might be able to donate money directly to a campaign. This would allow said student to bypass as much fundraising, making their jobs much easier. Despite this, Oelrich stated that he wouldn’t want to refuse a donation just because it came from a family member rather than a fundraiser. In the long run, all of the money raised will go to Quinn’s family directly, so it doesn’t matter where those funds stem from.

“It’s slightly unfair and I totally recognize that,” Oelrich said. “I wish this would be reflected on effort, but at the end of the day our goal here is to get as much money as possible. Only 50 percent of the score is judged on how much money they raise. The other 50 percent is based on the talent, and the thunder games might come into that.”

Still, he wants to be sure that the Thunder Pageant is equitable in as many respects as possible. To recognize the students who didn’t necessarily top the charts with money raised, this year’s Thunder Pageant will likely incorporate prizes solely based on talent, in addition to the traditional Mr./Ms. Congeniality award.

With all the new changes coming into effect, this year’s Thunder Pageant is sure to be a hit. There are always plenty of fundraisers around the corner, so be sure to help out Quinn and her family and watch the actual Pageant in March.

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About the Contributor
Lina McDonald, Opinions Editor

When she isn’t busy catching grammar errors and writing pieces for the Pinnacle, Opinions Editor Lina McDonald can almost certainly be found drinking copious amounts of coffee and wandering around Dudley’s Bookshop Cafe. Otherwise, she spends her free volunteering at Camp Tamarack, rewatching Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time or frosting cakes in her kitchen—all thanks to her trusty stand mixer. Lina always has an open ear for debating important issues–such as which Taylor Swift song is the best for any situation–and promises to hear out any controversial claims before disagreeing. Feel free to contact her with any editing queries or catchy story ideas!

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