Keep Reading. Subscribe Today.

Stay connected with our community and support nationally-acclaimed local news coverage. Sign up for a subscription today. Cancel anytime.

  • Already a subscriber?

Sumter High School provides roadside recognition for spring senior athletes

By DENNIS BRUNSON
dennis@theitem.com
Posted 4/15/20

While the coronavirus pandemic has severely limited the ability of Americans to gather together, it hasn't limited the creative juices to find ways to celebrate milestones in peoples' lives.

Drive-thru parades to celebrate birthdays have become …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Sumter High School provides roadside recognition for spring senior athletes

Posted

While the coronavirus pandemic has severely limited the ability of Americans to gather together, it hasn't limited the creative juices to find ways to celebrate milestones in peoples' lives.

Drive-thru parades to celebrate birthdays have become the rage, showing up on all sorts of social media outlets. Sumter High School has taken that idea and used it as a way to honor its senior spring sports athletes who more than likely have had their careers come to a premature end due to the mitigation and social distancing from the pandemic.

A banner of each of the 48 senior spring sports athletes were hung along the school's fence that runs along McCrays Mill Road was hung on Tuesday morning to provide some recognition to them should their seasons not resume.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate our spring sports seniors," said SHS athletic director Curtis Johnson. "Our fall and winter sports played all of their seasons, had a Senior Night. Our spring sports, the season hasn't been cancelled, but it doesn't look good.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate them. They worked hard, they're missing out on their Senior Nights and their senior seasons now."

Each of the banners is 3 feet by 4 feet, has the senior photograph of the student-athlete, his or her name and the sports listed in which they compete.

"It's really cool that they did this," said Barrett Conner, a boys soccer player. "I certainly wasn't expecting it. It shows that the faculty and the staff that they really care about us."

Johnson and principal Nicholas Pearson began brainstorming over a way to honor the seniors since it is looking less and less likely that the spring sports seasons will resume. Schools were initially closed in the middle of March by order of Governor Henry McMaster, and it through April 30.

The South Carolina High School hasn't canceled the spring sports seasons yet, but if schools aren't allowed to reopen, the sports schedules can't be resumed.

"We usually get the opportunity to do this on the Senior Nights, the Parents Nights, but the kids aren't going to have the opportunity to do that this year the way it's looking," Pearson said. "It gives us the opportunity to let the kids know we support them, we love them and just recognize them for all the work they've done in the past few years. All of these kids worked out all year and then to kind of have it snatched away from you -- as kids it's hard to grasp it. We want to give them something to remember this by."

Johnson and Pearson enlisted the services of Brian Jackson, a teacher and assistant coach at Sumter High. With an in-house printer, Jackson was able to produce each of the banners, and he had help from Johnson and Pearson to put on the finishing touches. He estimated it took about 20 hours of work over a few days to come up with the finished products.

After the three men and Jody Ortmann helped hang the banners, the news was posted on the school's social media sites on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram along with a video message.

"We just tell them how much we love them, care about them, we miss them," Johnson said. "We just thank them for everything they've done. I know it's really hard for some of these kids in spring sports, they need to jump a certain height, have a good senior season in order to play in college, and they're not getting to do that.

"We just wanted to do something to celebrate our spring sports athletes."

Betsy Conner is the mother of Barrett and his twin brother, Ben, who is also on the boys soccer team. She is grateful for the recognition given to the seniors.

"It's great that the school administration would do this," she said. "It's a special thing that they would do this to remember these seniors. They put a lot of effort into this so it really means a lot."

Steven Pendergrass is a sprinter on the boys track and field team. This acknowledgement has helped him overcome the likely loss of his senior season, and this comes after he missed his junior season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

It made me feel better," Pendergrass said. "It shows how much they care about us. It just gave me a good feeling.

"I didn't feel good when that happened (the shutdown)," he added. I know I had been working hard, had my body right, back in shape and be healthy again. To see what happened and not have any spring season really hurt."

Steven's parents are happy for the recognition that is coming their son's way.

"I'm overjoyed, overwhelmed about it," said Pendergrass' mother, Gloria. "I'm glad they show they cared. It's been a strange year, so we have to make the best of it we can."

"That's a good thing," said his father, Steve. "It shows they're thoughtful of them for their hard work."

Taylor Gradwell is the goalie on the varsity girls soccer team. She has been a part of the program since she was in the seventh grade. While she's thankful for the recognition through the banners, she admits basically not having a senior soccer season hasn't been easy.

"It's been tough," Gradwell said. "Soccer's kind of been a big part of my life. It's what I love doing and taking it away it's been rough. My teammates are like my family.

"Everybody looks forward to their senior year. It's a big deal to have that senior moment. You just have to push through it and take it as it comes."