By Brad Fauber
SALEM -- Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot left his seniors with a choice in the days leading up to Friday's Group 2A state semifinal game against Randolph-Henry. If the Rams were to win on Friday, the six seniors could travel 2 ½ hours back to Strasburg High School following the game and graduate with the rest of the 2014 class that evening, or they could participate in their own makeshift ceremony right there at Kiwanis Field.
The choice wasn't a very difficult one.
Following Strasburg's 6-0 win over the Statesmen on Friday, seniors Ian Baker, Ian Butler, Tyler Doman, Ryan Murphy, Dwight Reynolds and Evan Snapp each made the short walk from the third-base dugout to home plate, where they received their high school diplomas from Strasburg athletic director Matt Hiserman.
"Graduation's an awesome thing, but to do it on a baseball field -- that's just a once in a lifetime opportunity and not many people can say they've done it," said Snapp, who transferred from Clarke County at the beginning of the school year. "I really enjoyed getting to walk out there and get a diploma.
"I've fallen in love with Strasburg since I came here. It's just been great. The people have been good to me. It's just been awesome. I'm glad to graduate as a Ram."
Opting to disregard the traditional cap and gown attire, the six seniors instead remained in their baseball uniforms, many of which proudly displayed the wear of the Rams' victory just minutes earlier.
Parents, family, friends and fans all gathered in the stands directly above the dugout, and each senior's name was called by the field's public address announcer, triggering applause and cheers from those sporting purple and white.
After each senior received their diplomas and lined up along the third-base line, they paused for some quick photos before officially being declared high school graduates. Six baseball caps were then sent soaring high into the air, the only semblance of tradition in an otherwise perfectly non-traditional ceremony.
The entire process was over about as quickly as it began, which was just fine.
"It was great. One, I didn't have to sit through the whole graduation at our school. And two, we got to graduate on a baseball field in the state tournament," Doman said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
"I didn't have to sit for a couple hours. It was real quick. It was nice," Butler said. "It's a lifetime experience, and not many kids can say that they did it."
"I never knew I was going to graduate on a baseball field. I'm glad it worked out like that," said Murphy.
Strasburg will play Virginia High School in the Group 2A state championship game at Radford University today at 1 p.m. The Rams have had a laser-like focus on that crowning achievement since the start of the season, but they were able to take some time on Friday to celebrate some of their off-field accomplishments -- even if it was only for a minute or two.
"I think it's special for them, special for the families. Especially for their mommas in most cases," Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. "They're going to miss out on some things back in Strasburg tonight, but I have a feeling they're going to view what they did as a better situation than the other 170 graduates in the class of 2014."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com