More Incidents Reported at Backwoods Dance Means System is Working, Organizer Claims

"The dance was monstrously successful," organizer Paul Vagianos said. "We know what to look for now."

According to police, 15 Ridgewood teenagers had to be picked up by their parents at the police station. Three adults were arrested for possession of alcohol or having open containers. And one scuffle between two juveniles was reported last Saturday at Van Neste Square.

To Paul Vagianos, an organizer for grassroots community organization RHS Backwoods, the numbers represent a positive trend – the police and parental chaperons are now much more effective in identifying those who 'pregame' at the popular 'Backwoods' dances organized for high school students, he contends.

"The dance was monstrously successful," Vagianos said. "We were much more stringent at the gate in letting students in. The vast majority of students who were flagged were flagged at the gate."

Having put on prior Backwoods dances, chaperons, police and organizers were better prepared this time for the 900 students, he said. There were 15 chaperons, 8 police officers and an additional two layers of fencing around the park.

"This was probably double the number of incidents at our previous dances and we were disappointed there were as many incidents as there were. We believe a lot of that was due to our being more stringent at the gate and that we were just catching more," Vagianos said.

There are no pat downs but students cannot bring bags and are asked to leave jackets at the gate, per the policy. By slowly letting students in, many who were intoxicated were easy to spot by the time they reached the gate, Vagianos said.

"The system we've implemented with them [police] is very, very effective and that's why we caught so many kids at the gate. We're all getting better at this...no one can say absolutely for certain but I definitely believe it is getting better. We know what to look for now."

Ridgewood police Cpt. Jacqueline Luthcke said there were no reports of lewd behavior at the dance and said the majority behaved themselves.

To hammer home the message that the dance should be alcohol and substance free, in the days prior to the dance assemblies on the dangers of drinking for all high school grade levels were led by Tim Silvestri, a psychologist at Lafayette College.

A letter imploring parents to be involved by discussing the dangers of binge drinking with their students was also sent out.

Still, Vagianos and others involved in the dances are realistic.

"Our goal is to have nobody drinking at the dance," Vagianos said. "We know that is an unattainable goal and so we know there were going to be teens who would come to the dance and drink. We're trying to minimize the number and catch as many as we can at the gate."

Mayor Paul Aronsohn said the invested parties of Backwoods – which has replaced school dances at the high school – would be sitting down to discuss what transpired last Saturday at the park.

"Clearly we need to review what happened Saturday, both the good and the bad," Aronsohn said. "Some incidents happened but they were addressed. I applaud the increased vigilance and enforcement. These are all good things."

Aronsohn said he was not aware of any plans to discontinue any dances and remarked that there was good cooperation between parents, police and roughly 882 students.

"I think we're tyring to address these issues from different angles," the mayor said, highlighting the school seminars on binge drinking. "It's important; it's a community-wide effort that should and must continue."

Vagianos agreed a singular focus isn't the answer.

"This is a joint effort between the Backwoods organization and the parents," he said. "We sent the letter to all the parents saying work with us, help us, we can't do this alone. If it's just up to us, it's never going to happen."

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Craig Hueneke October 05, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Great Job. Sure 15 kids got busted. It's going to happen ANYWHERE.. But let's look at it this way. There were 15 lessons learned (I hope) and those 15 kids would have to be REALLY stupid to try that again! We parents have to realize that this underage drinking issue is a war, and no wars have even been won overnight! Hats off to the organizers and those who helped out. I know my wife and I appreciated the efforts and what they stand for!
Grammar Queen October 05, 2012 at 07:27 PM
The principal's letter begging concerned parents to chaperone their children to the dance to prevent drinking was a horrendous attempt at solving a problem that should be addressed within the home. These dances taking place in the middle of downtown ruin the ambiance of the evening for adults. Also, the school chose a Hippie theme for the dance which completely makes...sense.
Ron Verdicchio October 05, 2012 at 08:44 PM
I hope the sponsors have liability coverage!
Fan of Ridgewood October 06, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Well put, Craig. I have two teenagers and appreciate the school and village's efforts to produce a safe venue for the kids.
Craig Hueneke October 06, 2012 at 05:28 PM
WTF.. First: Lighten Up!! Second: You still have 364 other nights to enjoy the "ambiance" of the evening! BTW..Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing louder than the cries of the parents and the community when a child dies in a alcohol related death. TRUST ME ON THAT ONE!!! Third: These kids are residents of this Village too! Fourth: The hippie theme was Tie-Dye.. Think about it.. They have the kids wear something that stands out (last time it was neon) so the chaperones and organizers have a way to monitor them in and around the area. Fifth: The Principle's letter (to me as a parent of a high school student) showed concern for his students. Assuming you don't have children, because if you did you would know that the kids don't sit next to you on the couch and drive down a six pack of Bud before they go out. They go out and do that without the parent's approval. So by the parents dropping them off they have an idea where they were BEFORE they got there, and also knowing that they didn't drop off their kid already in the bag! You got to give the parents and the kids a little credit. They are NOT as dumb as you think. Cripes! Think a little before you tear into our communities concerns and efforts to stem the drinking issue. AGAIN! BRAVO for their efforts! KEEP IT UP!
Mary October 07, 2012 at 02:09 PM
The principal's letter showed the school system's interest in working with parents to address the problem of underage drinking. It presents a united approach to the kids. BRAVO !! Theses students are Villlagers too ........ and are part of the " ambiance " . The middle of town is public space.


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