By Bill Kirk
---- — They’re on the cusp of becoming high-schoolers. And last week, eighth-graders curious about what goes on at Andover High aside from organized sports got their questions answered at the first-ever Club Showcase.
Members of 20 of the school’s 65 clubs set up tabletop displays and answered a myriad of questions from students, parents and school staff about what their clubs do and why they do it.
From the Ultimate Frisbee to Origami clubs, Kick Butt Girls to Gay-Straight Alliance, a wide variety of groups and interests were represented at the event, organized by newly hired Andover High assistant principal Mark Seide.
Charlee O’Neil, a junior, answered questions about the Generation Collaboration Club, which she started this year.
One of the club’s first efforts was a collection drive for second-hand prom dress for donation to the Priceless Prom Gown Program in Haverhill.
A picture of the 58 prom gowns collected by Generation Collaboration was on display in O’Neil’s booth. The dresses, many of which were provided by Chic Consignment of Andover, were being dropped off to Priceless Prom the next day.
“I just like helping people,” O’Neil said.
Laurel Kazanjian, of Andover Youth Services, highlighted Troop KBG — aka Kick Butt Girls.
“It’s about women empowerment,” she said, adding that typically 10 to 15 girls are members of the service-oriented club at any given time.
The Ultimate Frisbee table was covered with Frisbees along with team photos and on-field action shots.
A combination of soccer and basketball, Ultimate Frisbee may not be recognized by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association as a varsity sport, but that hasn’t kept it from being popular, said Cindy Cromer, Andover Youth Services program coordinator for the team.
Cromer said interest in the sport has exploded since a boys team first formed in Andover in 1999. There are now three teams — both boys and girls varsity squads as well as junior varsity boys team — and more than 70 participants. After playing at Andover High, Cromer’s daughter has started a college-level Ultimate Frisbee team at Kent State University in Ohio.
The Andover teams have been successful in tournament play across the state and usually rank high in the standings, Cromer said, in part because the sport is now being played by middle school students as well.
The Gay-Straight Alliance was also represented at the showcase, with its students and club advisers speaking about the need for acceptance and sensitivity throughout the school district.
“If it weren’t for this club, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” said 18-year-old senior Tara, adding that she didn’t join the club until she was a junior. “I always wanted to join, but it took me a little while.”
Spencer Kelly, also a senior, said he’s enjoyed being a member.
“I’m blown away about how safe it is here,” he said. “These people are awesome. I can tell them anything.”
Advisers Caitlin Mitchell and Deb Burch said the club has been around since the early 1990s after then-Gov. William Weld passed the state’s school safety initiative.
“It was one of the first in the state outside of Boston,” Burch said, adding participation in meetings typically varies from six or seven kids up to as many as 20.
Burch said over the years, Andover High “has become a safer and safer place.” She said gay and lesbian students aren’t worried about physical violence, but they do hear the occasional slur about someone or something being “so gay.”
“The problems they used to face in high school they now face in elementary and middle school,” Burch said.
Superintendent Marinel McGrath, who was going table to table talking to students and staff, credited the event with helping ease middle-schoolers’ transition to high school and applauded Seide for initiating it.
Another club fair is planned for the fall for ninth-graders.
“I think it was a success, especially for the first time out,” Seide said. “It provided that opportunity for students to show off their accomplishments and eighth-graders can now hit the ground running with clubs in the fall.”