It was a dream come true for the Brusly High baseball team – for the second year in a row, they were on their way to the 3A state playoff tournament in Sulphur, La.
Last Monday, the team claimed victory over the West Feliciana Saints to earn a spot in the LHSAA state championship semi-final in Sulphur – a game that would be held later in the week on Friday.
The dream, though, was soon faced with the reality that the school’s graduation was also taking place on Friday.
Jason Manola, WBR School Board President and father of graduating baseball senior Blake Manola, said that his son expressed a bittersweet feeling to not being able to graduate with his classmates due to the tournament he and his teammates would be attending.
“(Blake) felt just like any other kid in that situation would feel - sad that he wouldn’t be able to walk with his classmates and kids that he had been going to school with for the last four years,” Jason Manola said. “But just the opportunity for them to play in the state championship baseball tournament, those guys, it’s something they worked for all year. They would gladly miss their graduation for a chance to be state champions.”
But after coaches and school administration officials met Tuesday morning, they decided they didn’t want the players to miss the opportunity to graduate with their peers.
So on Wednesday morning, May 14, the Panthers graduating seniors were surprised with a graduation ceremony that involved all their classmates, as well as friends and family.
“We thought it would be important for them to graduate with their class,” said baseball head coach Tait Dupont. He explained that the school’s graduates were holding a graduation rehearsal in the school’s gym Wednesday morning. “We thought, why don’t we do it then? Then we decided to make it a surprise.”
Dupont said that that he told his graduating players – Kwanstan Adkins, Brennan Allen, Landon André, Luke LeBlanc, Blake Manola and Beau Witty; as well as the graduating manager, Morgan LeBlanc – that they had to attend the graduation rehearsal, even though they would not be in attendance at the graduation.
“Really, the whole night, I was mad that I had to come to the rehearsal,” admitted Luke LeBlanc. “We were going to be in Sulphur, and I just didn’t want to come.”
Wednesday, toward the end of Brusly’s graduation rehearsal, the players’ families walked into the gym with graduation caps and gowns in hand as assistant principal Julie Mayeaux explained what was happening.
“I didn’t really expect it, then coach Mayeaux started talking and our parents walked out the back, I got a little emotional,” Luke LeBlanc said. “It was just a good feeling to know that we were about to graduate. I’m glad we got to graduate in front of all of our friends and all that.”
Landon André said that he, too, got emotional once he realized what was happening.
“I’m completely surprised. Never, in a million years, did I expect this. I’m speechless,” he said adding that he came to the rehearsal because he knew it may be the last time he would be able to be around all of his classmates at once.
“It was very emotional. I had no idea and I was just speechless. I’m just happy,” André said.
“I think this is awesome,” said Jason Manola. “Having an opportunity for these six seniors to able to walk, to be able to graduate in front of their classmates, is something. And that’s what makes Brusly a special place – just the opportunity to do that and to do it in front of their classmates is something they’ll always remember. They’ll never forget their graduation day.”
Kwame Adkins, mother of Kwanstan Adkins, said that she was glad that the school decided to hold a special ceremony for the baseball seniors.
“We knew they probably wouldn’t push the whole graduation back,” she said. “We thought it was wonderful for them to do that.”
Kwame Adkins said that her son didn’t even want a class ring, because it motivated him to getting a state championship ring.
“I had no problem with the team bypassing graduation to go to the state championship,” she said. “This is what the boys want, this is what I want. I want it for them. The diploma is a piece of paper. As long as I know (Kwanston) graduated with that high GPA he’s got, I’m excited.”
Brusly Principal Walt Lemoine said that he thought Dupont’s idea to hold a special ceremony for the seniors on the baseball team was a brilliant one.
“It came together quite nicely,” he said. “Graduation is a milestone in those kids’ lives, but a lot of those kids, to play baseball so long and put so much into it means everything… they were close last year and they feel like this is another opportunity, so I don’t think there was any second guessing on any of their parts, or even their parents’ parts.”
Dupont said Wednesday that he was proud of each of the team members receiving their diploma, adding that he thought they would be able to play their playoff game with more focus.
“They’re excited about the ballgame, now they’re graduated and we can focus just on baseball,” Dupont said.
On Friday, during the Brusly High graduation ceremony, Lemoine, from the podium, announced that the team had just lost their semi-final game versus Evangel, 3-0. And though a collective disappointing sigh swept throughout the gymnasium, proud students, parents and Panther fans applauded the baseball team’s effort and hard work that was displayed throughout the year.
And though they were in Sulphur during the main graduation ceremony, the Brusly High baseball seniors achieved a bigger dream than a state championship – they graduated.