High school athletes do their best to juggle playoffs and the prom

Westfield senior Carolyn Seltzer hardly left the field during the Concorde District girls’ soccer championship on a recent Friday afternoon, darting up and down the turf in what turned out to be her team’s first loss of the season.

The moment that Seltzer’s coach released her from the postgame huddle, the midfielder faced an adversary even more imposing than rival Chantilly: The clock.

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It was prom night.

Like spring high school athletes every year, Seltzer had a scheduling conflict: A major sporting event and senior prom on the same evening, one event a culmination of a years-long time and financial commitment and physical exertion with close-knit teammates, the other a one-night rite of passage considered a must-do by most students on the cusp of graduation.

In Fairfax County, 17 schools have their proms either this Friday or Saturday, possibly conflicting with region championships, or next Friday or Saturday, when Virginia state semifinals and championships will be played in most sports.

“At first, I was kind of upset about it,” said Seltzer, who mapped out a plan that would enable her as quickly as possible to morph from a team captain in a white No. 5 jersey to a primped date in a purple strapless dress adorned with purple, turquoise and blue beading. “But I was also really excited that my team had made it to the district final. It was definitely hard, stressful the week before.”

Prioritizing prom

Through the years, students and their families and coaches have found creative ways to handle such conflicts.

Last year, the parents of Wootton track athlete Casey Dowling drove their RV to a meet in Baltimore so she could shower immediately afterward and hightail it to prom, with mom applying daughter’s makeup in a careening vehicle on a stormy night, her man-on-a-mission dad gripping the wheel and repeatedly declaring, “You’re going to remember this!” as he negotiated city traffic and eventually double-parked behind a limo in Silver Spring.

A former Madison track athlete made a cardboard cutout of herself that her date could use as a stand-in for prom photos while she competed in a meet in Newport News. The Paul VI Catholic baseball team last year took a bus limo directly from a championship game to prom, a reward with a pre-determined caveat: Promise to win the title.

Jefferson boys’ soccer players in 2007 decided after a hard-fought state semifinal in Newport News to forego their prom plans in Northern Virginia that night to rest up for the next day’s 1 p.m. championship.

Moments after they broke the news to their girlfriends, their dates’ tears dissolved the Colonials’ resolve. They decided to head north after all, a move that left Coach Sean Burke “livid but powerless,” according to former Jefferson player Conor Russomanno. “Hilarious in retrospect,” Russomanno said in an e-mail, before adding, “Thank God we won.”

Time to move quickly

Westfield’s Seltzer knew she would have no time to spare. Because of her soccer game, she already would have to miss out on the party bus ride with about 30 other students to a restaurant downtown. She got her nails done the day before prom, not with the usual polish but with a gel shellac that would be less inclined to crack in the succeeding 24 hours.

That same prom eve, family friend Arianna Acker went through a dry run with Seltzer’s hair to see how quickly they would be able to style it the following night. Seltzer and her date, Colby Eller, posed for pictures that Friday afternoon before Seltzer had to leave for her 4 p.m. game; she wiped off her photo makeup before warmups.

As focused as the Bulldogs were on the championship and not prom, the events blurred. When the Chantilly players filed into the stadium, a Westfield player remarked snidely, “I really don’t like purple,” in reference to the rival’s primary school color.

“Hey!” Seltzer protested. “My dress is purple!”

Seltzer had driven herself to Westfield, but her father, Jim, retrieved her car from the school parking lot and was waiting for her just outside the entrance to the athletic complex at game’s end. The final horn sounded at 5:44 p.m., Seltzer went through the handshake line a minute later and by 5:51, after the team’s antsy postgame meeting, she was jogging to the parking lot to be whisked home.

The Seltzers decided to take an alternate route to the house to avoid the rush-hour backup at the intersection of Braddock and Pleasant Valley roads. That shaved off a few minutes. At home, Seltzer took a quick shower and at 6:28 p.m., clad in Westfield Bulldogs shorts, slid into a chair in the family’s kitchen, where Molly Seltzer applied her sister’s makeup. At the same time, Acker curled and braided Seltzer’s blond hair, a much fancier style than the ponytail she had worn during the game.

The Seltzer girls’ brother, Gavin, noted that the intense procedure looked more like a NASCAR pit stop than a grooming session.

A teammate, Kelly North, went through similar shower/makeup/hair stations at the Seltzer home.

“Keep it light,” Seltzer’s mother, Krista, advised as Molly applied the makeup.

“Mom, I’m going to ignore you,” Carolyn replied.

After she slipped into her dress and posed for more photos, Seltzer pulled out of the driveway at 7:20 p.m., with Jim Seltzer and other family members driving Carolyn and North to Buca di Beppo on Connecticut Avenue, where they arrived about halfway through the family style dinner and joined their dates. Then it was on to the party bus to the Dulles Hyatt in Herndon for the dance, with a Justin Timberlake “Suit & Tie” theme.

“I think we did pretty well,” Seltzer, a University of Delaware recruit, assessed several days later. “I don’t think there’s anything else we could have done. You play the game for your teammates because you want to win, and after the game you’ll be able to go to prom.

“You really don’t miss that much, and once you get there, everyone is happy to see you. It ends up being the fun night that you always remember.”

 
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