Lines of children made their way out of classrooms Wednesday afternoon after Principal Dale Petersen announced a relocation drill at Lakeview Elementary School.
Some looked around curious while others asked the more pertinent question: “Where are we going?” That question was soon answered as all of the lines led to the school’s unoccupied gym. Soon, that room was filled with the noise of about 400 kids who played rock, paper, scissors and spoke with their friends or sat quietly, waiting for the main event.
After everyone was gathered, a roar greeted the DARE officers who made their way into the room. It was time to celebrate.
Carrie Boedeker-Larson, school counselor and DARE educator for the state of Wyoming, rallied the crowd with a few questions before letting them in on the surprise.
“Have you guys ever got a gift that you’ve ever been super excited to get?” she asked. “Have you ever given a gift that you were super excited to give?”
The questions were met with a flurry of hands thrown into the air and more affirmative shouts. It seemed the children had been a part of just such occasions. And Wednesday, they got to be a part of Boedeker-Larson’s excitement, too.
As the children worked up a drumroll for their awaited surprise, a gym closet door opened and Daren the Lion made his first appearance. The nearly 7-foot tall mascot was met with surprised faces and cheers from the children but also smiles from the officers.
The spokes-lion is the face behind the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program and has now been gifted from Lakeview to the officers for use in events like Fright Fest at Halloween and possibly even the Fourth of July parade. The mascot was a long time coming, after Boedeker-Larson won it in a drawing at a DARE conference in 2019.
Sheriff Scott Matheny credited her persistence in making sure the mascot made its way to Gillette. It was something of a series of unfortunate events that lead to Daren’s postponed arrival, Boedeker-Larson said.
First it was the COVID pandemic, then it was the first mascot supplier canceling before another supplier’s work proved inadequate.
“Honestly, we weren’t sure we were ever going to get it,” Matheny said. “She was tenacious about making sure it came in.”
About five minutes after the scores of students left the gym with smiles and laughs, Katherine Erickson made her way out of the closet with a red, flushed face.
“Was it toasty?” DARE officer Justin Feddersen asked with a cheeky grin.
“It was so hot,” Katherine affirmed.
Just 15 minutes before, Katherine stood two feet taller and was unrecognizable as she fulfilled the role of Daren. Although hot, she also said it was worth it and someday she may be up to taking on the role again.
“It was really cool seeing all of the kids’ smiling faces,” the 12-year-old said.
Katherine said the school’s DARE officer Ed Holden, A.K.A. Officer Baldilocks, brings a good attitude and uses stories to connect with the students about different issues. The sixth-grader also won this year’s essay contest, connecting obeying the law to a future goal of hers, being an Olympic swimmer.
On Wednesday, it was Katherine who was able to high five the officers in a mascot she knows about thanks to them. As students from each grade level brought up thank-you posters to the working or retired DARE officers, the gratitude for the support they give to the district also was written all over their faces.
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