ENFIELD -- Sharon Pothul, an 18-year-old senior at Fermi High School, got a new car on Friday -- for free.
Pothul won a red 2010 Kia Soul, whose manufacturer's suggested retail price is $17,295, donated by Gary Rome Kia in Enfield as part of a year-long contest members of the senior class participated in.
To qualify to win the Kia, students had to maintain a B average for their senior-year classes, be involved in two activities, have no more than six absences, have no detentions or suspensions, and complete 40 hours of community service.
Seniors, whose grades for the contest were based on the first three marking periods that ended on April 9, had until April 30 to complete their community service and submit an application to Principal Paul Newton.
Newton said approximately 100 students participated in the contest but only 10 students met all of the qualifications.
Around 6:30 a.m. Friday, following a pep rally in the gymnasium, a crowd of approximately 200 students and staff gathered around the car, which was parked in the lobby at the high school, to see who would win it.
Each of the 10 students was given a car key but only one would open the driver's side door, designating the winner.
As a television crew from WFSB-TV3 filmed -- the segment was broadcast live as part of the station's "Cool Schools" feature on the morning news -- several of the students tried unsuccessfully to open the car door, until Pothul tried her key and it opened.
"I'm just really excited," she said later about winning the Kia Soul, which topped Time magazine's list of "The Most Exciting Cars of 2010."
"I was so surprised," she said. Pothul, who will be attending Elms College in Chicopee, Mass. this fall to pursue a nursing career, said she appreciated Rome donating the car.
Although Pothul won the Kia Soul on Friday she won't actually take possession of it until she graduates. The car was scheduled to be on display at Friday night's senior prom at La Renaissance in East Windsor.
All nine remaining seniors who were finalists in the contest received a $100 gift certificate to Gary Rome Kia.
Teacher Rachael O'Rourke, who had Pothul in her Spanish class last year, said the car couldn't have
gone to a nicer person. "She is such a sweet person," O'Rourke said. "She's going to be a nurse and that's the type of person you want caring for you."
O'Rourke also received a $100 gift certificate and was honored because Pothul selected her as her supportive teacher during her high school career, Newton said.
Gary Rome, whose dealership has been in town for two years, said he just wanted to help people. "We're new in town and we think it's important to give back to the community," he said.
Rome also thought it was important to recognize a faculty member, which is why the dealership also awarded a gift certificate to the teacher Pothul chose.
"They have a huge impact on these student's lives," he said. Newton said the 10 finalists did a combined 500 volunteer service hours. Altogether the other 90 students volunteered more than 1,000 hours.
The principal said Pothul volunteered up to 36 hours at Blair Manor nursing home. She also volunteered at the ticket booth during the recent home show at Asnuntuck Community College. Her total volunteer hours totaled nearly 50, he said.
Newton was also glad to see Pothul win the car.
"Sharon is a wonderful young lady. I'm really happy for her," he said.
Next year the same contest will be held at Enfield High School where another lucky senior will be awarded a new car.
The nine other seniors whose keys didn't open the Kia at Fermi but who received a $100 gift certificate from Rome were: Dan Army, Patricia Cotnoir, Kaitlyn Cyr, Katlyn Fleming, Felipe Gheiman, Krista Maloney, Kevin Menaker, Derek Wright, and Torii Zaine.