Salem teens keep SnoBall alive in its 67th year with virtual high school dance

Evyn Baker at the 2017 SnoBall dance, “Passport to Paris” (Courtesy/Janeen Baker)

Salem’s teenagers have seen many of the hallmarks of high school cancelled this year, from catching up with friends in a crowded lunchroom to after school soccer rivalries, theater rehearsals and choir performances.

Evyn Baker decided SnoBall would not be among them.

Baker, a junior at West Salem High School, is part of the teen committee planning a virtual version of the winter dance, now in its 67th year.

“We don’t want this to end our streak. We just decided to take it virtually,” he said.

SnoBall has been a Salem tradition since 1953, when a North Salem High School student started it as a way to raise money for the YWCA.

Class Act Events, a local event company, took over the planning about eight years ago, said Susan Adkins, the company’s owner. When the YWCA shut its doors, they continued hosting the dance, with a committee of teens from local high schools helping to plan and proceeds donated to Willamette Academy, a college access program at Willamette University.

It’s been held at the Oregon State Fairgrounds Pavilion for years and typically attracts a crowd of 1,200 to 1,500 students, Adkins said.

Baker went to his first SnoBall in seventh grade, volunteering at the coat check. He said he loved the atmosphere, from the decorations to the regular DJ.

“I enjoyed seeing all the dresses and all the fun lights,” he said.

The dance is open to high school students from around the Mid-Willamette Valley. Adkins said he was asked to serve on the planning committee once he got to West “because he was a fantastic volunteer.”

Baker said the group felt too many other events had been cancelled because of the coronavirus, and they wanted to try a virtual dance to give local students a chance to socialize and feel more normal – something that’s been lacking as classes have moved to Zoom.

“With this dance I’m hoping we can actually communicate with each other,” Baker said. “I haven’t seen a lot of my friends lately. I’ve been kind of cut off from the rest of the world.”

They’ve hired two DJs – one to play music and the other to emcee the event, handing out raffle prizes at regular intervals. Allied Video is working with the organizers to live-stream the dance, and Dutch Bros. is giving students a free drink coupon included with their ticket.

Students will be able to take traditional dance photos virtually using a green screen. Adkins said they’re also planning some virtual contests, like making snowflakes.

Unlike in past years, there’s no specific theme other than “virtual.”

“We are not wasting a cool theme on a year where we cannot decorate,” Adkins said.

They kept the traditional date, the first Saturday in December. Tickets are on sale now for $7, and the dance will be held Dec. 5 from 8:30-10 p.m. 

And for 2021? Adkins said they expect to be back at the fairgrounds.

“We already have it reserved,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

SUPPORT ESSENTIAL REPORTING FOR SALEM – A subscription starts at $5 a month for around-the-clock access to stories and email alerts sent directly to you. Your support matters. Go HERE.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.