For one night every year, about 2,000 people call the football field at Plant City High School home. Businesses, churches and other organizations erect more than 70 booths, and performances and other activities transform the field into a miniature city for Plant City’s Relay for Life.
It’s a huge undertaking, but one that PCHS has assumed for the past 15 years.
“We get so pumped up,” cosmetology teacher Laurel Ritenbaugh said.
Hosting the event takes months of planning. Much of the work falls on Traci Durrance, assistant principal for administration, and the Relay for Life logistics team.
“Traci makes sure we get everything we need and takes care of all those details — from making sure the sprinklers won’t go off to making sure the lights turn off during the candlelight vigil,” Relay chair Linda Herman said.
On the morning of the Relay, members from the logistics team go out to the field and paint lines on the field for the booths. ROTC members help the logistics team prepare for the long — but fun — night ahead.
Carpentry students have made toilet paper-roll holders and a throne for the cosmetology’s fairy princess booth. Best Buddies and English as a Second Language students sell delicious treats, such as homemade tacos during the event. And the FFA Department brings their trucks to help load and unload equipment for the Relay tents.
“Everyone pitches in,” Ritenbaugh said.
In addition to its duties as host, PCHS also is one of the local Relay’s largest fundraising organizations. The school participates all year, through activities such as sock hops, flower grams, kickball tournaments, T-shirt and bake sales. And before the Relay, the school hallways turn into a sea of pink, with students and faculty rocking their cancer gear.
The school was inspired to be a part of Relay after losing two teachers and an administrator.
“Everyone knows Plant City High School and associates it with Relay for Life,” Herman said.
Ritenbaugh wanted to do something with the cosmetology department when one of her students, Megan Carpenter, died from cancer at 17. At the Relay, the cosmetology department runs a makeup and nail booth, where young girls can get a “fairy princess” makeover. At the end of their makeover, Florida Strawberry Festival Queen Kelsey Fry will declare them a fairy princess.
“We try to teach the students, at the end of the day, you’re judged by the person you are, not your GPA,” Ritenbaugh said. “We want them to learn this life lesson.”
At the end of the event, each participating group is responsible for cleaning up its area. But again, the event coordinators and the students join together to clean up any remaining messes.
“We’re just honored to do it,” Ritenbaugh said.
Contact Amber Jurgensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RELAY FOR LIFE
WHEN: 6 p.m. April 19
WHERE: Plant City High School, 1 Raider Place