Stonewall seniors share special graduation ceremony on baseball diamond

Stonewall Jackson seniors, from left, Dylan Vann, Duncan Schroeder, Brett Jones, Cole Holsinger and Wyatt Estep and their families are congratulated by the Generals' coaching staff after a short graduation ceremony following the VHSL Group 1A baseball state tournament semifinal game on Friday between the Generals and Eastside at Calfee Park in Pulaski. Brad Fauber/Daily

PULASKI – Stonewall Jackson High School senior Cole Holsinger said the talks about the Generals’ five baseball seniors having their own graduation ceremony on the diamond began with the start of the 2017 season.

Early on Friday morning, the Generals were one win away from making that happen. Come early afternoon, after beating Eastside in the Virginia High School League Group 1A state tournament semifinals, those five seniors – Holsinger, Wyatt Estep, Brett Jones, Duncan Schroeder and Dylan Vann – got to check yet another box off their lists, as they turned Calfee Park into their own graduation stage and received their diplomas during a brief makeshift ceremony moments after the victory.

That group will miss Stonewall Jackson High School’s official graduation ceremony while competing in Saturday’s state championship game against Auburn. Both events are scheduled for 10 a.m.

“Having it actually happen to us this morning is amazing,” Holsinger said shortly after limiting Eastside to two hits on the mound in what was the Generals’ first-ever state tournament appearance. “That’s all we wanted.”

In fact, Holsinger emphatically shook off the notion of sharing his final moments as a high school student with anyone other than his teammates.

“I wanted to be here with this team. I want to celebrate this special moment with this team,” he said. “As much as the 2017 class rocks, this is a special thing, a special group of guys that really, it’ll be with me the rest of my life.”

In place of the traditional graduation gowns, the five seniors remained in their uniforms, though they did ditch their worn-out baseball caps for the standard mortarboards.

With “Pomp and Circumstance” – the graduation march – playing over the stadium’s speakers, each senior had his name called by the public address announcer as they emerged from the first-base dugout to receive their diplomas from Stonewall Jackson principal Mike Dorman and assistant principal Scott Schlentner before lining up along the first-base line alongside members of their families.

After shaking hands with Dorman, Schlentner and the Generals’ coaching staff, the seniors tossed their caps in the air to celebrate their second grand achievement of the day.

“It’s awesome, it truly is,” Estep said. “Just getting to walk out here on a baseball field – I never would’ve dreamed that would’ve happened. It’s kind of unfortunate I didn’t get to graduate with my 2017 class, but it’s awesome either way.”

The ceremony would seem a fitting sendoff for the seniors, who are all four-year varsity players and have played starring roles in what has been Stonewall’s deepest playoff run in program history.

“I’m gonna really miss them deeply just for the pure fact that I don’t look at them as players anymore, I look at them like my own kids,” head coach Mike Lenox said. “We’ve been together so much. I’ve learned so much about them, seen them grow up. To see them be a part of all the milestones that they’re accomplishing right now is just a pleasure. I couldn’t be more pleased with what they’ve accomplished, who they have become. All those kids are going to college or going to a trade program. They’re all gonna be successful people and I couldn’t be more proud of that part of it.”