April 29th, 2017
by Seth Klamann
As dance music thumped through the Kelly Walsh High School gym, Austin “Ace Boosie” Ryan faced the bleachers and danced.
He pivoted on the tops of his toes and flung his arms toward the ceiling of the gymnasium, drawing applause and cheers from his classmates. He swung his arms and angled his knees, becoming a fedora-wearing robot. He ran into a handstand. He rolled to the floor, stopped mid-somersault and balanced on his neck.
He stood up and fell again, only to rise back up into a dab, the head-meet-elbow dance move popularized by NFL star Cam Newton. The crowd went insane and started chanting Ryan’s name.
“I’m a self-taught dancer,” he said, proud and breathless and smiling so wide it almost looked painful. Meanwhile, a pianist had taken the stage behind him and was singing a sad song about fixing himself.
“I love it all,” Ace Boosie gushed, wheeling away and gesturing to the students laying on the gym floor, covered in blankets and pillows, and lounging in the bleachers. “The music, the dancing, the crowd. Everything.”
Ace Boosie, the introspective pianist, his fellow students, their pillows and blankets, they all gathered in Kelly Walsh’s gym on Friday for the ninth annual Rodstock, an all-day music festival for Make-A-Wish Wyoming that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for sick children.
Students and faculty took to the stage for seven hours, playing everything from the trash-can percussion part of “Stomp” to Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” to an orchestral performance of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” A mysterious man named “Leisure Suit Larry,” wearing a (you guessed it) leisurely green suit, sunglasses and a Weird Al Yankovic wig belted out “It’s A Beautiful Night,” and a young girl sang “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
“You get to watch people perform who you had no idea had a voice,” said sophomore Natalee Virachack. She was sitting in the bleachers against the wall with her friend, fellow 10th-grader Tara Catellier.
That was a common theme: Who knew that girl from biology could sing? That guy playing the piano, the one in the technicolored sport coat (“Look at this cat!” yelled the event’s emcee), did he just blend “Piano Man” into the Charlie Brown theme song?
“Just seeing people get up there, and their confidence” is great, said student body president Hannah Henry.
People had to audition, but that was mostly to make sure students didn’t perform a song that would cause school officials to reach for their Tums.
“You get to learn about people through music,” said freshman Lili Allen. She was wearing small cat ears and was sitting cross-legged on the gym floor atop a pile of blankets and pillows. Like Ace Boosie, Allen had stood up during DJ Caleb’s dubstep set and started dancing along with the music (“That was my favorite part,” she said, smiling.)
“I just met (Allen) today, and now we’re great friends,” added Tade Zimmer, a senior who said he was up at 3 a.m. Friday morning getting together his things for his makeshift bedroom in the gym. He brought pillows and blankets, and another friend brought a giant teddy bear that he was propped up against.
Zimmer and his friends weren’t alone in their desire for maximum comfort: Students all over the cavernous gymnasium were wrapped in blankets. They wore pajama pants and hoodies and held stuffed animals. Several students were rocking onesies: A bright-pink Hello Kitty zip-up, Sully from “Monster’s Inc.,” a beige teddy bear outfit for the foul-mouthed and anthropomorphic stuffed animal from Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted.”
It was, to no great shock, a very high school scene. Some students watched the acts, while others played on their phones or flirted with classmates. They held hands and swapped gossip. They sang along and took naps.
They were all enjoying a day off from their studies. Each of their classes had to raise a certain amount of money for Make-A-Wish to gain access to Rodstock. Then they donated more money for concessions and to be entered into raffles for Blimpie’s and Coldstone Creamery gift cards.
Dustin Hebert, the high school’s theater director, introduced the different musical acts and gave running updates of donation totals. That usually meant urging students to dig deeper into the pocket of their onesies.
“We’ve raised $7,000. That’s one child’s (wish),” he said in the early afternoon, referring to the average cost of fulfilling an ill child’s request. “Can we do two? ... Two children deserve to have better lives. More than you do!”
And, later, when the total was just short of $14,000: “I know some of you get allowances for Starbucks! Starbucks is doing just fine, trust me.”
The spirit of the event wasn’t lost on students.
“I just enjoy this moment, the donating,” said senior Nic Robinson, who was sitting in the bleachers with his friends. “It brings the whole school together.”
Zimmer said the event was his favorite day of the year. Senior Maya Thapa, who wore pajama pants and a hat from the “Zelda” video game series, said her favorite part of the day was when a young girl with Down syndrome sang Journey and the crowd slowly waved their cellphones in the air in time to the music. The students just instinctively accepted the girl, she said.
“I’m really proud of this school,” Thapa added.
The event ultimately raised $14,000, enough for two children to have their wishes fulfilled. Morgan Legerski, the CEO of Make-A-Wish Wyoming, said what the students did in a single day was “incredible.” There are 41 children waiting to have their wishes filled in Wyoming; seven live in Casper.
Henry, the student body president, said it wasn’t as much as the school had raised in past years, but you wouldn’t know that from talking to Legerski.
In 10 years, Kelly Walsh’s students might remember that they missed biology or that they saw their friend play the ukulele, she said. But they probably won’t miss the $5 they donated.
“The wish child whose wish they fulfilled will never forget it,” she beamed. “This is how wishes get granted.”