BUCKFIELD — A day-long burst of community magic on Friday transformed a high school gym into a Cinderella-esque ballroom, complete with a pumpkin-shaped carriage.
That was the setting for Saturday night's traditional Carnival Ball at Buckfield Junior/Senior High School.
"It's for our kids, that's why we're doing this," said Darrin Martin, an electrician, as he strung several strands of white Christmas lights along a wall of closed bleachers.
The theme was "Once Upon a Time." Accordingly, the gym was tricked out to resemble a fairy-tale fortress, complete with live birch trees lining the elaborate fence around the ballroom dance floor.
Entrances into the gym were converted into drawbridge gates, with the main arched gate on the bleachers wall at center court joined by two large turrets, each topped with electric-torch simulators.
Large, handmade stars adorned the walls, along with a few towering medieval-fantasy-painted windows.
Most of the decorations were donated. Many came from the Share Center in Auburn, Senior Class co-adviser Faith Rines said.
The castle gate through which the Class of 2013's 38 seniors would march on Saturday night took three hours to erect, Vena Kahkonen of Buckfield said.
Her 18-year-old daughter, Kristy, is one of the seniors who helped create the castle-interior ambiance.
The pumpkin-shaped carriage was constructed by Pete Barlow of the Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico. It was parked on the stage where Carnival Ball royalty would be crowned.
Normally, the prom-like event would be held in the spring, but the Buckfield school event is solidly entrenched in tradition and always held before the start of February vacation.
And, in addition to high school students, parents, siblings, grandparents and community members were invited to participate from 7 to 11 p.m. Between 11 p.m. and midnight, only seniors would be allowed in the gym.
On Friday afternoon, 17-year-old seniors Dakota and Ashley Warren and Jasmine Noyes, all of Buckfield, helped erect three-dimensional castle entrances. They also reflected on the extreme-home-like makeover process going on in different sections of the gym.
"I feel like it's something special because you see here that we're all here to back each other up," Dakota Warren said. "Like, everyone here wants it to look good for everyone else. It's not just about them."
The Carnival Ball brings seniors together as a class, because up until then, they hadn't really done anything together as a group, she said.
"So, like, to do this as a whole class, it's a big deal, and it's great to see the community support us," Dakota Warren said. "That makes the year a whole lot more special for us instead of (being) just another countdown to graduation for us."
"I think it's pretty awesome that we've got parents out here to help us decorate for this thing," she said. "Being a community dance, it's something that really brings the community together and it helps us with going on the class trip and some people don't realize that."
Rines said seniors get points for participating in different stages of planning and decorating for the event. Those points are converted into cash for the senior trip.
NewPage paper mill mechanic Larry Strout of Hartford said it was the first Carnival Ball for which he had helped decorate the venue.
"It's all for the kids," Strout said.