By Brad Fauber
PULASKI -- About nine hours after Sherando High School held its graduation ceremony for the class of 2013 on Saturday, six of the school's seniors gathered nearly 200 miles away at Calfee Park in Pulaski for a unique graduation experience.
Still riding the high of a thrilling 4-2 win over Amherst County in the Group AA baseball state semifinals, those six seniors -- Justin Angel, John Bentley, Jeb Brown, Jacob Carney, Taylor Loudan and William Nicholson -- lined up at home plate in front of a crowd of family and friends as they held a short ceremony of their own.
With their dusty jerseys and ball caps serving as a fine substitute for the traditional cap and gown, each senior received their high school diploma from Sherando principal John Nelson. The group then tossed their ball caps high in the air, officially signifying themselves as high school graduates.
"It was an awesome feeling, definitely unique. Not many people can say that they graduated and got their diploma on a baseball field after punching a ticket to the state championship," Loudan said. "I've had a very memorable four years at Sherando, and it couldn't have ended in a better way. It was so awesome."
The makeshift graduation ceremony was a perfect way to cap an evening already made perfect by the state semifinal victory, but Carney admitted it was a little humorous seeing Nelson and other school faculty in their caps and gowns while he and his teammates stood in their uniforms.
Still, Carney said there is no place that he would rather be than on the baseball field with his teammates for graduation.
"It didn't really bother me not getting to graduate with everyone else," Carney said. "I got to graduate with this group of seniors that I absolutely love and would do anything for."
Bentley echoed that sentiment, although he said it was tough to really grasp the reality of the moment with so many different things happening at one time.
"So many things were racing through my mind at the same time," Bentley said. "I'm trying to get ready for the game tomorrow but I'm so excited to be graduating. You've got your mom crying over there on the sideline. It's a lot to deal with but altogether it's just so much fun, it's so exciting that you can't really put it into words."
Sherando coach Pepper Martin said the ceremony was something the team planned to do whether the Warriors had won or lost on Saturday, and the victory over Amherst County undoubtedly made the ceremony that much sweeter.
For Martin, it was the first time that the longtime coach had graduated a group of players on a baseball field, and he said it will be hard to see the this year's group of seniors go at season's end.
"The six seniors we have ... they're going to be sorely missed, I can tell you that much," Martin said. "We've relied on them, their leadership, their skills, their perseverance.
"I thought it was pretty neat, that ceremony."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org