Senior pranks are off-and-on Whidbey tradition

Former Whidbey students shared memorable senior pranks from their youth.

On the last day of school in 1988, students and staff at Oak Harbor High School were welcomed with a bizarre sight: instead of the familiar flag waving in the late spring breeze, they saw “George,” a dummy, hanging from the top of a flagpole.

Brenda Stadtlander was a part of the pack of Wildcats behind that year’s senior prank, a group that remembers the stunt “like it was yesterday.”

The night before, the pranksters entered the school thanks to a staff member who left the door open, and threw toilet paper around the hallway. Outside, students painted an anchor, set up a campsite and unraveled more toilet paper, creating a barrier and blocking non-seniors from entering the parking lot.

Since the school was aware of the prank and found no damage to the property, the seniors faced no repercussions, according to Stadtlander.

Senior pranks aren’t new to Whidbey, though over time they stopped being a regular occurrence. A stunt at South Whidbey High School this year and its aftermath, as well as a debate about the facts surrounding it, caused a great deal controversy in the community.

In response to a recent South Whidbey Record story that details the incident, tens — if not hundreds — of community members shared mentions of past pranks on Facebook, including a prank where live goldfish were allegedly disseminated across an unspecified school’s courtyard, a prank where students placed a stolen Ronald McDonald statue on top of Oak Harbor High School’s roof, and one in which a live cow was brought in one of South Whidbey High School’s buildings.

At the heart of the conversation is whether pranks are harmless fun, what should happen if they go too far and whether kids in the past were able to get away with more.

A Facebook post by The Record staff garnered a lot of reaction, as well as concerns that the newspaper was working with the cops to uncover pranksters from years gone by. For the record, the newspaper is not working with the police on an anti-prank sting.

Several officials and well-known members of the community shared stories, though they emphasized that pranks cab be fun and silly without breaking any laws or causing damage.

Decades ago, students got away with pranks more easily, Oak Harbor City Councilmember Jim Woessner believes. Kids were “allowed to be kids,” and if they went too far, they would be punished with a detention or suspension, or even some paddle spanking.

Woessner graduated in 1979 and remembers a good number of pranks from the time he was a teen, though he claims he was never personally involved in any.

That year, a group of his peers reached the roof of the gym, which was a dome, and formed “79” with a number of old tires.

Another group of seniors in the late 1970s taped a student to a flagpole, likely against his will, Woessner said. Another student flushed an M-80 firecracker down the toilet, which exploded.

Woessner said there were repercussions when things went too far. Until some years before he graduated, seniors would celebrate the end of high school on a mini cruise. This tradition came to an abrupt halt when a group of students threw lifejackets and chairs overboard.

“Unfortunately, from that point on, there wasn’t a charter company that the school district could find that would ever charter a boat to Oak Harbor,” Woessner said. “That just ruined it for the rest of us.”

The most impressive prank he remembers happened in 1977, when a group of students stole an anchor from the school’s property and tried to hang it under Deception Pass Bridge. Though no one fell dozens of feet to their deaths, the anchor plunged into the Puget Sound.

To prevent future thefts, Woessner said, the anchor was replaced by a larger and heavier one, which students have spray painted multiple times over the years.

“If you did any of that stuff nowadays, you’d be in front of a judge,” Woessner said. “We hold kids to a higher accountability.”

Phil Broderick, who attended Coupeville High School in the 1970s, believes schools nowadays tend to “overreact to pranks,” while also not helping the kids.

Broderick recounted some pranks he had been involved with, including wrapping the Coupeville chief of police’s car with toilet paper, though no one was punished.

Back when he was in eighth or ninth grade, a group of students stole another student’s car and left it on the top steps of the gym.

Through the intercom, the principal demanded students to remove the car, promising there would be no disciplinary action taken against the culprits.

Senior pranks are not unique to Whidbey, nor to the United States. Across different cultures, toilet papering remains one of the most common forms of “assault.”

Ole Thorsen, a South Whidbey Falcon who graduated in 1992, was part of a group of seniors who, dressed in all black, threw toilet paper around the school and the superintendent’s house. As far as he can remember, no one got in trouble and the teachers were amused.

Oak Harbor Class of ‘88 Grad Brenda Stadtlander said students would toilet paper the homes of the teachers they liked. One was a teacher who had warned the students that no one had gotten away with toilet papering his house.

“We got him during spring break,” she said.

The prank is remembered with fondness. About a decade ago, Stadtlander said, the teacher and some former students gathered at the funeral of a classmate. When the prank was brought up, they all laughed together.

Michael Ross, who graduated from Oak Harbor in 1986, also remembers a positive reaction from the district.

Ross was part of a group of six seniors who put an old outhouse they found on a farm on top of the gym. Security caught the students, who, as it turned out, had received permission to pull the prank.

“They all thought it was clever and original,” he wrote in an email to the Whidbey News-Times, which also covered the story when it happened 39 years ago. “The good ole days!”

Sen. Ron Muzzall, who graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 1981, recalled the time when a group of seniors filled the principal and vice principal’s offices with crumpled newspapers.

Though he wasn’t behind the prank, he remembers the principal and vice principal had a good laugh.

“The only thing I was involved in was cleaning it up,” he said.

On the side of Highway 20, not too far from Walmart, there is a large rock that generations of students painted at the end of the year or whenever a friend was sick or had passed away. It is now abandoned, hidden from sight behind bushes. Woessner believes it’s a piece of Oak Harbor’s history and should be preserved as such.

Spray painting rocks is not a tradition unique to Oak Harbor. Perhaps “The Rock,” located in front of Coupeville High School’s gym, is the town’s most notorious canvas, as it’s regularly used to celebrate birthdays or athletic achievements.

Unbeknownst to some, The Rock’s origin story began with a prank orchestrated by the class of 1985.

With the help of adults, Shelli Trumbull and other graduating Wolves placed the rock in the middle of the school’s parking lot. Though she couldn’t remember the district’s reaction, she said it was a harmless prank.

“We really wanted to do something that was gonna leave a mark, kind of a legacy,” she said. “Obviously the school, after this many years, hasn’t minded because the rock is still there.”

In one case, the school pulled out an UNO Reverse Card on the students.

In 2006 or so, Ken Stange was in his second year of teaching English at Coupeville High School, where he said he met smart, high achieving students.

Before the construction of the current building, it was easy to access the old school, Stange said.

One night, students entered the school and built “mountains” of stacked up desks held together by a lock and a chain. To find the key and unlock the chains, staff would have had to solve a riddle on the whiteboard. Stange described it as a “no harm, no foul prank.”

Little did the students know, the staff was in the mood for a prank too.

Stange and his colleagues, knowing the students were planning a stunt, showed up early the next morning to put everything back to its place. Instead of solving the riddles, he said, they called maintenance and broke the chains with bolt cutters, eliminating any proof of the prank.

“We got to tease them because no one got to see their handiwork, except the teachers,” he said.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Before the graduation ceremony, students were asked to leave their bags in the main office. When they came back to pick them up, they found all their bags had been chained and locked by the principal.

In an email to the Whidbey News-Times, Superintendent Steve King said there have been several senior pranks in the school, including blocking the parking lot with cars or filling the principal’s office with balloons.

Though there are no prank-specific rules in place, disrespecting others or damaging property counts as crossing the line.

“Usually pranks in Coupeville are good natured and provide us with some humor during a busy time of the year,” he wrote.

Sarah Foy, Oak Harbor School District’s communications officer, wrote in an email to the Whidbey News-Times that there are no senior prank traditions or recent pranks the administrators are aware of or can recall. The district does not have any specific policies about pranks, so local and state laws would apply.

Some students from the class of 1988 camp outside of the school. (Photo provided by Brenda Stadtlander)

Some students from the class of 1988 camp outside of the school. (Photo provided by Brenda Stadtlander)