Editors get last laugh on April 1

Extra! There's no fool like a `Scroll' fool, high school newspaper reveals.

Columbia

April 14, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

With headlines declaring that Columbia's Oakland Mills High was changing its colors, getting a Subway sandwich shop in the cafeteria and adding badminton to its sports lineup, the school's latest student newspaper appeared to scoop everyone, including major media.

The news sent a Board of Education member into a minor panic - until she turned to Page 5 and was let in on the joke: It was an April Fools' Day edition.

"You got me," Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, wrote in an e-mail to The Scroll's staff Sunday night after picking up the paper.

"I could not believe what I was reading," Watson wrote. "I didn't recall the board approving a Subway at any of our schools."

She immediately got on the horn and e-mailed another board member, wondering if the Oakland Mills staff had run amok. While waiting for a response, she finished the paper, spotting the angelic smiley face on page 5 under the words: "April Fools! Did we get you?"

"I started laughing. I thought it was great," Watson said in an interview. "All day long on April Fools', I was thinking to myself what I could do, and I never came up with anything. For them to get a joke on me was pretty good."

April Fools' Day versions of some student newspapers are a tradition in Howard County.

Hammond High has been doing an April Fools' edition for more than a quarter-century, turning everything topsy-turvy, including the paper's name which changes from The Bear Press to The Pressed Bear. This year, stories about the school resource officer losing his doughnuts and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-style fake makeovers made it into print.

"It's not about fooling people; it's totally for fun," said Hammond journalism teacher April Askin. "It's just something that the kids have a really good time with and the other classes and other students in the school always look forward to."

Centennial High's counterfeit paper had made-up stories about teachers' pasts, said senior Eric Mekins, who added that he did not fall for the farce.

"I know it's coming out every year, so I expect it," he said.

So do the students at Oakland Mills High, but some were still duped, said student government adviser Vincent James, which gives The Scroll's graduating staff no small amount of satisfaction.

"We've set the bar for other journalism classes," said reporter Ben Bernier, issuing a challenge to next year's team.

The first half of The Scroll - which has a different 1986 date on each page representing the editors' birthdays - was loaded with baloney. The real news picked up at about Page 6.

One of the nine phony articles quoted Ronald McDonald. Another said a full-sized pool was found underneath the gym floor. A third - with quotes from "Anita Man" - claimed an annual King of the Mill pageant was canceled because of sexism complaints.

But it was a story that did not make it into the senior-written trick edition that caused the biggest stir.

Staff writer Michael Beare wrote a piece saying the prom was being moved from Friday night to Wednesday because the juniors could not afford weekend room rental rates. Then he told his Spanish class, and the rumor spread faster than poison ivy.

"I opened my mouth too soon," Beare said yesterday on his first day back from spring break.

Parents started calling Principal Marshall Peterson last month, offering to raise money to sponsor a Friday-night prom if the school couldn't.

"I didn't know where this was coming from," said Peterson, who had to issue e-mail and loudspeaker announcements confirming the Friday date. Then Beare confessed, and his story was killed because it was too controversial.

The Subway article made the cut, though, and did only minor ego damage.

"Am I going to have my name in the paper now as falling for this?" school counselor Donna Ueckermann asked with raised eyebrows. She skimmed the school's paper, which came out April 2, and thought "How cool is this?" when she saw the story about the food chain moving in.

She stopped being fooled when she got to the part about seniors baking the bread. "No way," she said.

"Most of the adults in our school are the ones who got fooled," said Scroll managing editor Samantha Solomon. "I didn't think anyone would believe it at all."

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