Helicopter stunt creates buzz at Patriot High School


Victoria Burress, 17, a kicker for the Patriot High School football team, during practice at the school in Nokesville, Va. Her friend asked her to the school’s Fall Fest by having a helicopter drop a stuffed bulldog onto the field after a practice. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
September 17, 2012

A black helicopter hovering overhead can lead those below to become worried, scared or suspicious. But when a large aircraft positioned itself over a Prince William County high school’s football field last Wednesday afternoon, students who had just been released for the day excitedly watched as a stuffed bulldog with a red-bandanna parachute emerged.

The big-eyed pup drifted to the turf, delivering a message from a junior boy to a senior girl: “Fall Fest?”

As students look to one-up their classmates for the most outrageous way to ask a girl on a date — in this case Patriot High School’s version of a homecoming dance — this boy’s approach might have set a new standard. The helicopter flew in low over the school’s grounds, stunning students and setting off a flurry of Twitter messages and photographs before its covert mission was complete.

“He knew it was my senior year, and I’ve been asked some pretty creative ways before this,” said Victoria Burress, 17, a soccer player and kicker for the football team. “Everyone thinks that we like each other, but it’s not like that at all. It’s just unusual to be that close with a guy and to have him still do something nice for you.”

The Washington Post is not naming the boy because it could not verify his involvement by speaking to him or his parents.

It’s unclear exactly how the helicopter stunt was planned and even who was in the aircraft, though school officials said the boy’s father asked the principal for permission to have a helicopter fly in and drop the stuffed animal. The boy’s father is a senior official in air operations at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Reports of the incident irked CBP officials when they were made aware of photographs showing the aircraft looming close overhead Patriot students.

“We are aware of reports that a locally based CBP helicopter was used improperly by local CBP personnel Sept. 12,” officials said in a statement. “CBP management is looking into the matter and the pilot in command of the aircraft has been relieved and reassigned to administrative duties pending completion of the review of the incident.”

There was no mention of who was at the controls or who else might have been in the helicopter. The student’s father could not be reached Monday, and the boy’s mother declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Patriot High students are still buzzing about the Hollywoodesque feat.

It began as a noise they often hear, as airplanes and helicopters routinely pass overhead on their way to and from nearby Manassas Regional Airport. When school ended last Wednesday and students headed to their cars, they were stopped by the sound of an approaching helicopter and surprised to see it slow down and hover.

“The helicopter got really close to the football field, and I saw something drop,” said ­DeAndre Spurlock, 16, a junior at Patriot who was in the parking lot that afternoon. “Everyone stopped in the parking lot and watched.”

Burress had gone to her car and was trying to make her way back into the building to lift weights, but she was slowed by some of her friends who were in on the act. Suddenly, her guy friend walked toward her, carrying pink roses. Everyone applauded, and the two students walked together to the football field to collect the stuffed animal, which looks like Burress’s pet bulldog, Dozer.

The school principal was aware of the dramatic drop ahead of time, as the student’s father asked for permission, said Irene Cromer, a Prince William County Public Schools spokeswoman.

“It was completely authorized,” Cromer said. “They did ask for permission. They were granted permission.”

And it’s not the first time the mysterious black helicopter has buzzed by. The high school’s football coach said there have been previous flyovers at the new school in Nokesville.

News of the flying-puppy-gram quickly spread through the student body. Burress received a text message at 3:12 p.m. that read: “Who asked someone to homecoming with a helicopter?” That message was quickly followed by these: “OMG IT WAS YOU!?” “AWHHHHHHHH,” and “IM SO JEALOUS.” Burress responded at 5:28 p.m. — “Hahahahahahahah I know!” — and then posted a photo of the exchange on her public Twitter account.

Burress also posted two photos of the helicopter hovering over school grounds, including one featuring her and her friend embracing as they looked up at the large black helicopter. Reflecting on the event, Burress tweeted: “. . . so surreal.”

This isn’t the first time Burress has been wooed by creative date-seekers. When she attended Brentsville District High School, Burress said she got asked to prom at halftime of a game over the public-address system. Last year, a boy spelled out P-R-O-M with plastic cups in a fence. But this invite was in another stratosphere.

“Everyone’s pretty mad,” Burress joked, alluding to how it’s made the other boys who asked their dates in more conventional ways seem less thoughtful.

Indeed, Twitter quickly lit up with jealous comments. The guy was called “a legend” who would be tough to top, while Burress was referred to as “the luckiest girl in the world” and other girls lamented not yet being asked. “No way I can ask a girl to prom after that,” one student tweeted. Another coined the hashtag “#HelicoptersArentCool.”

“Everyone thought it was cool,” said Vic Ceglie, 17, who is a junior and plays on the football team. “All the girls thought it was sweet, and the guys were like, ‘That was tight.’ ”

The student behind the tight invite played down the elaborateness in a tweet. But he added: “Just wait and see what I have in store for Prom.”

Donna St. George and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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