All day Saturday, Hanover County families converged on the Siegel Center at VCU for the rite of passage known as high school commencement. As Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson gave each school a speech about those who impacted their 2,351 school-day journey to this moment and urged them to dream big in the real world, the day also slowly opened the curtain to a new reality.
In the sports world, we were blessed to watch the class of 2013. So, as we review each ceremony, we also talk with some of the personalities whose performances and leadership ability made the 2012-2013 high school sports season one for the record books.
LEE-DAVIS: Approximately 346 seniors received their diplomas early on a Saturday morning, and, in keeping with this class’ tradition of being tops in school spirit, they presented the school with its first-ever mascot. The senior gift quickly made his way through the seated senior class before getting onstage to give Superintendent Wilson a spirited hug.
Track star Bonny Turnage, who knows a thing or two about pacing herself to travel long distances, finally arrived at graduation day as valedictorian, happy to celebrate with her classmates while marveling at how quickly the final year at Lee-Davis went.
“More than anything else, I wanted to tell the class it was an honor to graduate with the team and how glad I am to have spent the last four years with them, some of them since kindergarten,” Turnage said.
Walking across the stage included football standouts Chris Simpson, Deshaun Rogers, Jordan Prentiss, Mark Reisenweaver and Russell Munn, basketball players Josh Brown and Kori Hughes, softball standouts Amy Wingfield, Becca Hicks and Haleigh Cottrell, track stalwarts Turnage, Dallas Tennessee, Wesley Jones, and Shakiya Sheppard, volleyball stars Christina Penzer and co-salutatorian Meghan Price, field hockey and lacrosse star Taylor Loomis, and wrestler Sawyer Barksdale just to name a few.
This class led the athletic department to a number-one seed in regional football, a state berth in girls volleyball, a Capital District softball tournament title, and numerous team and individual honors. When Lee-Davis improves even more overall as an athletic program next year, part of the credit must go to the Class of 2013.
HANOVER: High noon brought the Hawks, 300 strong, to their commencement at Siegel. It was the 10th such event in school history held in a time of big transition, as Activities Director Robert Stratton participated in his final ceremony, preparing to pass the baton to Josh Just (see related story).
The Hawks prided themselves in effectiveness, class and execution, producing the quickest, most efficient ceremony of the day, completed in just 60 minutes. And, while watching the load of student-athletes walking across the podium to shake Dr. Dana Gresham’s hand and receive their diploma, the realization set in that the new era of Division 4A competition, some Hanover teams will be hit hard by graduation.
We thanked football all-timers Sam Rogers, Andrew Knizner, L.J. Jones, Maitland Wright, Donte Haynesworth, Daniel Fogelman, plus Mary Kate Dustin from girls volleyball, Trayvonte Brown, Jordan Cleveland and Usman Mahmood from basketball, Keith Searles, Chris Gilliam, Brett Whitlow, and Knizner from a state champion baseball team, and softball’s Shannon Albright, the Capital District Player of the Year.
“This is really weird,” Sam Rogers said in the sea of humanity on Harrison Street after the ceremony. “I’m excited; finally all the work has paid off.” When asked about the walk across the stage, he deemed it “surreal,” that it didn’t feel like it was you, that it should be a brother or sister instead. After a vacation, Rogers begins his next journey July 5 when he reports to Virginia Tech.
Some athletes’ summer vacations are longer than others. Three-sport star Haynesworth will turn his focus completely to football come July 1 when he begins his career as a Norfolk State Spartan. He leaves Hanover in the capable hands of underclassmen that include his younger sister, Leila, a rising sophomore who made a name for herself in track this season. When asked about how quickly time will fly, putting her in a cap and gown come 2016, she waxed poetic.
“I know, I’m excited, but I’m going to take the time to enjoy it.”
PATRICK HENRY: Saturday afternoon brought 336 Patriots onto the Siegel Center floor. Patrick Henry’s Class of 2013 brought pomp and circumstance, a ton of honors decorating their caps and gowns, and genuine excitement at experiencing a life-changing event.
Valedictorian Blake Bauserman reminded his classmates to not take themselves too seriously, but challenged them to dream. Several Patriots who crossed the stage saw dreams come true on athletic fields wearing the red, white and blue.
We saw state track champion Travis Phillips enjoy a clear path to his diploma, no hurdles to cross. It was the same for Jessica Shelton and Lynnell Fisher, two leaders for a Patrick Henry girls track team that won multiple championships during their careers. Hannah Herbert had a disappointing senior volleyball season due to injury, but smooth sailing on the podium Saturday. Scott Brigham and Hunter Taylor, key cogs in boys volleyball’s most successful season in years, now head together to play at Eastern Mennonite. Khalil Mock, William Holman and Weslee Toro graduated much to the delight of their basketball coach, Randy Anderson, seated with the faculty.
Perhaps the feel-good story of the event was watching Tyler Pinder receive a medallion as well as her diploma, gracefully walking the stage, in the final phases of her recovery from a serious knee injury in February. She inspired her twin sister Jasmine, and the rest of the Patriots girls basketball team, to make a dramatic run to a Colonial District tournament title with a triple overtime win in the championship game. They move on to help Bridgewater College win in the ODAC
Kyle Palmer, one of the area’s top pitchers, was there, and was happy to see his day finally arrive.
“I knew this day would come, just didn’t think it would come as fast as it did,” Palmer said afterwards.
He’ll spend the summer working, and working out, in preparation to arrive at Radford University Aug. 23 to continue his education, and baseball career.
Dr. Wanda Bibb successfully navigated through her first year at the helm at Patrick Henry. Now the Class of 2013 must begin to navigate their own personal waters post-high school.
ATLEE: The nightcap brought the day’s largest graduating class to Siegel at 428 members. The Raiders’ 22nd commencement was logistically different from the rest, but was filled with just as much class and regal feeling, and the stage brought us a galaxy of student-athletes who indelibly left their mark on Raider Nation.
Valedictorian Jessica Fairly proudly smiled and exclaimed, “We did it!” to her fellow classmates. As the diploma ceremony began, volleyball standout Hailey Brooks, the Gatorade State Girls Volleyball Player of the Year, sported a bright smile as she made her way to her diploma, held by Principal Jennifer Cohodas. Brooks was part of a senior quartet with Karlie Suber, Kayleigh Moody, and Stella Thai, that brought Atlee to within one point of a state championship on that very Siegel Center floor last November before losing Moody to injury, and the title in a fifth set tiebreaker. All four were all smiles at Siegel this night.
Football stars Morris Jackson (Virginia Union), Chad Jacob (VMI), Jay Hausler and Charlie Aylor (both Randolph-Macon) proudly received their reward, as did basketball and track standout Rashan Winters. The swimming team said goodbye to its emotional leader Caitlin Sargeant, plus champions Madalyn Murphy and Jesse Burnley. Atlee baseball saw its pitching rotation depleted with the conferring of diplomas to Evan Swecker and Luke Bolka, while extraordinary outfielder Steven Edmunds, too, became an alumnus. The girls soccer team bade farewell to Capital District Player of the Year Lindsay Wilkins, while Atlee softball gave a bittersweet but fond farewell to pitching sensation Jessica Holte and shortstop Taylor Sutherland, who led their team back to state tournament play in 2013.
Aylor was on Harrison Street after the ceremony. Asked what he dreamed about the night before his high school graduation, he had a simple answer.
“Beach Week,” he exclaimed with great pride and celebration.
After all, for the 1,410 seniors who graduated Saturday, hundreds of them were student-athletes who put as many hours into training and practice as they did in the classroom, the library and the laptop. Taking time to celebrate and reflect upon these multitudes of accomplishments is a pretty good idea.