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East Clarendon High School athletic director Scott Cook and the Wolverine coaches were disappointed the school located in Turbeville couldn't have a proper athletic banquet this spring to celebrate their student-athletes after the school year was brought to an unexpected stop by the coronavirus pandemic. They wanted to come up with a creative way to celebrate and realized they should take the banquet to the student-athletes
Starting on Thursday night and wrapping up late in the afternoon on Friday, Cook and the rest of the East Clarendon coaches hopped on a school bus and traveled around the community to about 60 student-athletes to recognize their accomplishments this year. Nearly every coach traveled on the bus, as well as a number of other teaches who wanted to visit their students.
"It was hard at first. We sat there thinking about it and people asked us why we'd do this or why we're not giving (plaques) out at graduation or have them come to the school," said Cook. "Our response as a coaching staff was why not? These student-athletes lay it on the line day in and day out for us in the classroom, on the field, in the community, whatever we ask them to do. Why can't we take a night and a morning out of our time and just drive to each one of their houses and check on them, see how they're doing, let them know how much we appreciate what they're doing and give them their plaque that they so deserved."
Cook and the East Clarendon coaches saw this as a chance to show their student-athletes just how much they mean to the school. They also took the time to pray with the families, a touching gesture in a difficult time across the country.
"We prayed with each family, praying that God will keep his hands on them and protect them," said Cook.
While the banquet was primarily for the student-athletes that won awards during the school year, Cook and the coaches also made sure to visit all of their spring seniors who lost almost all of their final seasons.
"We did our full-year banquet and since we didn't have spring sports to give awards out for, we still wanted to visit our seniors who participated in spring sports and thanked them. We gave them a certificate of appreciation, because through these tough times, they kept their spirit," said Cook. "We hate that they lost their senior seasons and they understood, it's something we all talked about. A couple week ago we had Senior Nights for baseball and softball, but we wanted to do something special for all of them."
Cook and the coaches did all the visits outside and maintained social distancing. Cook wanted to make sure every student-athlete felt safe. Some students wanted to give a handshake to show their appreciation, and Cook saw that as a sign that the student felt safe.
"We stayed outside, we practiced our social distancing and all that, we had everything we needed, lights on, gloves, hand sanitizer, all that stuff," said Cook. "If a kid reached out to shake my hand, I'm shaking his hand. That's how I was raised. I understand we're in a hard time right now, but we try to teach these people to be young men and young women and if they reach out to shake your hand, you should shake their hand.
"They felt safe and that's the main thing," continued Cook. "I told our coaches if they reach out to you, that means they know they're safe and they trust that you're safe. Plus, you aren't getting on that bus if you're not safe."
The best way East Clarendon could have this banquet in a safe way was to bring it online. Every stop was on Facebook Live, so the community could celebrate these student-athletes from afar. Cook appreciated the way the community rallied around these kids from home.
"I didn't realize until about the second or third house that someone had me on Facebook Live," joked Cook. "I knew this community was very supportive of their student-athletes, but it just floored me to see how much they appreciated it."
Because the event was such a success, Cook said the school may look into doing it again in the future, even when things get back to normal. The most valuable experience over the two days was getting a chance to see these kids outside of sports or the classroom and it helped the East Clarendon coaches and teachers get to know their students better.
"We're not doing this to start a tradition, but seeing what we saw yesterday and today, we talked about it on the bus afterwards, we might have to consider doing a banquet, but also doing this right here," said Cook. "We see our kids in the weight room, but teachers don't get to get out and visit these kids and see where they live and the situation they're in. It makes you understand why a student might not have a pencil in your class today. There's a reason why. Or why someone needs an extra sandwich at lunch or a hug in the hallway. You've got to get out and learn these kids."
That relationship building was what made this trip so special for Cook and the rest of the staff. It meant as much to the coaches and teachers who were making the rounds as it did to the kids and their families.
"The looks on these kids' faces, that's why we did it," said Cook. "I can't explain to you how much every one of our student-athletes and their families were touched, but not as much as we were. I know I was. As we drove around and talked about it, our hearts were touched."
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