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Dance with me? Prom dates are the luck of a draw at Illinois high school

A long-standing tradition at a Catholic high school in Illinois ensures no one gets turned down for prom. Dates are randomly assigned.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

For many teenagers, asking a date to prom can be an agonizing ordeal. But for the students at Aquin High School in Freeport, Illinois, a long-standing tradition dictates that no one is left out, and no one gets turned down. Prom dates are chosen by luck of the draw.

“I am the third generation of my family to participate in the prom draw,” Aquin junior Maggie Bald told TODAY. “Having a school of less than 100 students, we are more like a family."

"It doesn't matter who draws which name," Bald said. "We get along with everyone. Since 90 percent of us have been going to school together since kindergarten, we are very close.” Bald even was included in the draw as a sophomore in order to even out the couples.

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It’s a tradition that began at the Catholic school in 1926, reportedly as a way to include children living at an orphanage across the street from the school who wouldn't have had a chance to attend a prom otherwise.

As prom approaches, the boys go to the library and draw the names of their dates at random. The girls, who are waiting in the gym, are then treated to a skit by the boys before their dates are revealed.

Every year, students are asked if they would like to continue the tradition and every year their response is a unanimous "yes," Bald said.

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If there’s an odd number of students, younger students are pulled up to be included in the draw, as Bald was. Or, a student might attend with two dates, as Bald's grandfather did in the 1940s.

Even students with regular boyfriends or girlfriends participate, and the prom turns into more of a group activity than a romantic date, with friends eating and taking pictures together throughout the night.

“It’s less of a date and more like something fun to do with your classmates,” junior class adviser Michelle Gallagher told NBC affiliate WREX.

TODAY viewers took a dim view of the tradition, with 83 percent opposed to the idea in a Twitter poll.

"This is worse than the 'everyone gets a trophy,'" tweeted Katie Gjerde, a sentiment echoed by many others. "We have to quit protecting our kids from failure! Failure is how they learn!"

Current and past students chimed into the Twitter debate to defend the random drawing.

"This isn't about learning failure," said Georgia James. "We go to a small school and all vote to keep this tradition of 90 years alive... We have several other dances each year where we can ask anyone we want."