AYER -- This year, Ayer-Shirley Regional High School's Oct. 13 Homecoming Fall Festival will have a new twist. Besides the carnival games and activities for all ages, Gervais Ford is offering adults free test-drives of new Fords with no sales pressure or obligation.
There is one catch, however. For each car test-driven, Ford will donate $20 to the school.
As part of the Drive One 4 UR School program, Gervais Ford will be bringing up to a dozen new vehicles to the school campus for adults ages 18 and over to test drive.
Gervais Ford Manager John Gervais said the dealership is especially happy to offer the program within the business's own community this year.
"It's a fun, low-pressure event to help high schools raise money to support their sports and extracurricular activities," said Gervais. For every valid test-drive completed, he said, Ford Motor Company will donate $20 to the school, for a maximum of $6,000.
"All you have to do is sign a test-drive waiver and release form, and we hope that people will also fill out the brief survey afterwards," said Gervais.
"It's really kind of a fun thing to drive a new car, and some people don't like the idea of coming into a dealership. It is a good way for somebody to do an off-site test drive."
Although one must be 18 or older with a valid driver's license to drive, children are permitted to ride with their parents or guardians. For those wishing to leave the kids behind for a quiet ride in a new Mustang, Escape, Explorer, Focus or Fusion, school council members will be providing a test-drive babysitting service.
Other festival events
The Fall Festival will be held from noon to 3:30 p.m. at the high school.
"It's free, but you can buy tickets for the different carnival games. We'll have a ring toss, bean-bag toss, face painting, cupcake decorating, and a concession stand for lunch, plus cotton candy," said ASRHS National Honor Society and Student Council adviser Amy Allaire.
Various student groups that sponsor the activities will share in the proceeds, which will go toward field trips, uniforms and other materials.
Allaire said the athletic department, which runs the concession stand, uses its proceeds to help pay for the sports teams. "We recently had to get new uniforms that say 'Ayer-Shirley' or 'Panthers' on them. This will help offset some of those costs."
The student council, individual athletic teams, the National Honor Society, and other student groups will each have a booth there. The athletic teams use the funds for things such as their athletic camps.
"The fall festival last year was a great success. We were very happy with the participation from the students of Ayer and Shirley schools.
"We had full-face painting, with tigers, lions, and fish bowl faces. Kids were coming out and roaring at us with their full tiger faces," said Allaire, who said she looks forward to seeing more creative face painting this year.
"Last year, each student group earned about $60, which was a decent amount of money. The concession stand, run by the Athletic Department, earned about $700," she said.
"This event kicks off our whole homecoming week. Monday night, Oct. 15, we are playing capture the flag, beginning at 6:30. On Tuesday, we will have junior varsity at 4 p.m., and varsity at 5 p.m. This will be our big Dig Pink volleyball game, which is making strides against breast cancer. Tuesday is 'Get Your Pink on Day.' It's a spirit day; we will sell pink ribbons and pink friendship bracelets for breast-cancer awareness.
"Wednesday is Bombardment, which is a classic here -- kids love that day. At 6:30 we'll play dodge ball, class versus class, boys versus girls, and so on.
"Thursday is Ultimate Frisbee at 6:30 p.m., and Friday is the big game against West Boylston at 7 p.m. On Saturday, we will have our semiformal Homecoming Dance, which will have a Hawaiian theme.
A community space
In reviewing the events of homecoming week, Allaire paused to outline the difficulties in holding community events in the 1960s-era high-school building.
"A new facility would be very good for student activities," she said, referring to the school district's proposal to renovate the building beginning next year. The renovation, which would be largely funded by the Massachusetts State Building Authority, is up for a two-town vote on Nov. 17.
"It would give us an easier environment to do stuff. For example, right now there is only one bathroom for the gym, and the locker rooms are very subpar. There is just one stall in the gym, like during Fall Festival. And when we have more bathroom space, that will really help for the games.
"Even something simple like that will be very helpful in the new building, and that will definitely help activities and athletics."
Looking around the cafeteria, she added, "Updated cafeteria space will be inviting to do various activities; it's currently very difficult to get into the cafeteria.
"When we have something like the scholarship spaghetti supper, people have trouble finding their way in. We try to put balloons up, but you have to go through three hallways to get in the building."
Allaire said the new design will have a massive entrance so that one can clearly tell, "'This is the entrance to the building.' And the cafeteria space will be easily accessible from the main entrance. We want it to be easily accessible."
When the building was built, she said, it was not intended for use by the larger community. Today, however, the building is in constant use by various groups, from Pop Warner, to town meetings and forums, to Weight Watchers meetings.
"This is a community space. We have 360 Gymnastics, the Ayer-Shirley Educational Foundation Lip Sync Show, and the elementary school uses it for their programs -- plays, big presentations, the spelling bee. If they have a meeting with multiple grades, they generally meet here."
"The students are excited about the future high-school renovation project," said Allaire. "We are also looking forward to getting the building up to par with other school districts in terms of the facilities being appropriate to impart the curriculum in a more 21st century manner, because, right now, the building can be an obstacle to the learning environment.
"Depending on when the construction starts, the freshmen will probably be able to take advantage of whatever the finished product is. Even the seniors get that we need it and look forward to coming back to see the new stuff.
"When people come to the Fall Festival, we'd be happy to give them a tour of the building."