After 40 years, 'Footloose' star Kevin Bacon returns to Utah high school - East Idaho News

After 40 years, ‘Footloose’ star Kevin Bacon returns to Utah high school

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Kevin Bacon speaks to Payson High School students on the school’s football field, before volunteers began building care packages for local nonprofits with Bacon’s charity Six Degrees in Payson on Saturday. | (Collin Leonard,

PAYSON, Utah County ( — Red cranes and toothpick-like scaffolding towered over the football field of the soon-to-be-demolished Payson High School. Students, parents, teachers and the general public formed a line spanning the width of the old building Saturday morning, filing onto the grass expectantly, waiting for a very special guest to arrive.

Some sat on the bleachers of either side, where the sun reflected sharply off pale metal, looking down on rows of tables and boxes awaiting the hundreds of volunteers, who over the course of the morning and into the afternoon, planned to stuff 5,000 brightly colored gym bags with socks, snacks, free online counseling coupons, dental supplies and more to give to nonprofits in the area.

The impetus of this event, of course, was a year-long campaign led by students and faculty to convince Kevin Bacon to return to the set of the 1984 movie “Footloose.” It was a Hail Mary that led to Bacon’s return on the second to last year the old high school would be in use, with the clever and well-advised student council leveraging the momentum of the 40th anniversary of the film and the pull of fundraising for Bacon’s charity, 6 Degrees.

Brigid Zuknick, the director of programs for the charity, said, “The 40th anniversary was an inspiring time for us to dream big and to think how we could make the most impact.”

East High in Salt Lake, where High School Musical was filmed, has enjoyed one level of fandom, but the generations of “Footloose” lovers in Payson have their northern neighbors beat.

BJ Hansen grew up in town and graduated high school in 1996. He played Bacon’s character, Ren McCormack, in a local theater adaptation of the movie. Hansen said it’s definitely part of the heart of Payson, from the old car wash scene near the Huish Theater to the chicken race with tractors on the backside of “P” Mountain. Those in the bleacher remember exactly what scene their sister was in as a fleeting extra, or where their locker was on the back cover art of the CD.

“Everybody had wanted this to happen for years,” a 1997 graduate said, “I mean, it’s just part of going to school here.”

The crowd lit up as Bacon emerged from under the stands to the movie’s titular song, hands in pockets and throwing in a little shuffle step on beat. “Things look a little different around here,” Bacon said, “I’d say the thing that looks the most different is me.”

He was probably wrong on that account. A current sophomore said the school is so old that there is a hole in the floor of the cafeteria where students drop pencils down into the underground gymnasium below. A cafeteria worker confirmed the existence of said hole.

The power of the movie, Bacon said, is how it brings people together, connecting on the basic ideas like “standing up to authority sometimes, being forgiving of people who are not exactly the same as you, standing up for your own freedoms, and your right to express yourself and for having compassion for people.”

He commended the Payson students and their efforts raising money for charity, turning “what could be just, you know, a movie star coming back to get pat on the back into something really positive.”

In-person volunteers from the general public were randomly selected from those who donated at least $25, which builds one care package to be given to the homeless resource center Food and Care Coalition, LGBTQ+ mental health service charity Encircle, family education service Centro de la Familia de Utah, or the Spy Hop youth digital media organization.

Jim Rowland, president of the Payson Chamber of Commerce, when estimating the economic impact of the movie “Footloose” on the town, said, “I think, this year, has probably been more beneficial than the other 39 years combined.”

The volunteer event came before the High Schooler’s Prom Night, the focus of the students’ industrious campaign. They sold “Bacon to Payson” merchandise, put on a musical, line dancing classes, a social media campaign, a chain letter fundraiser, recreations of movie scenes for the morning announcements, scavenger hunts and more. Bacon will not be attending the dance.

“You are all just tireless, unrelenting in your desire to have me return,” Bacon said. “You talked me into it, you know. I think it’s great to see that kind of commitment to anything.”

“As kids grow up, they start to struggle with different things in their life,” Hansen said, and explained “Footloose” is about passing the torch to a new generation, confronting and growing through the challenges. “(The students) come of age and realize that they get to take responsibility for their own lives and their own decisions,” he said, and Payson High Schoolers have certainly done that.