The last ride: Poplar Springs celebrates Senior Night in cars

GRACEVILLE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Let there be light...and senior night.

A family stops to talk to a baseball coach and view a senior banner along the parade route.

"I felt like I had to do something and I wanted it to be something big and something memorable," Poplar Springs principal Farica West said.

Although COVID-19 took away spring high school sports seasons, it couldn't take away senior celebrations Friday for the Atomics' baseball and softball teams. Beginning at 20:20 military time, friends and family lined the streets.

"My mom and dad and step mom and step dad and my three siblings are here," softball second baseman and left fielder Emily Gilmore said.

They drove around the fields, participating in a parade paying tribute to four girls and three boys whose last at-bat came too soon.

"We wanted to finish it out strong and be prepared for our last game to cry and everything," Gilmore explained. "Now we don't get that. We're just going to use this time to say our goodbyes."

And hello again.

"What most I love about baseball is being able to have fun with your team," catcher Kobi Long reflected. "We've messaged each other to stay in contact. This is the first time I've seen [fellow senior Sonny Chesnut] since our last game."

"I took it for granted," softball catcher Lydia Dixon admitted. "I didn't think it was going to end. We got an abrupt ending but this is going to help us remember."

Numbers lined the outfield. Banners were placed on the diamond. Cherished moments cycled through their minds.

"All of our memories flood my head," Dixon added. "It's so fun to think about!"

The hope is it will be for years to come.

"Students will come back with their own children," West said. "I want them to turn down Atomic Drive and have a good memory, not just want COVID-19 wanted to write on those pages."

This chapter includes pain. On Friday, were separated from the diamond dirt by a glass jar, gifted to all seniors before the parade. They'll always be separated from what could have been by fate.

"Our senior night..." Long paused, "...we would have had a heck of a ballgame."

Seniors Ashley Schierer, Cheyenne Miller, and Brayden Smith also rode along.

For a half hour, they remained separated from each other by a car-length—physically, at least.

"It's just a family," Long said. "It's just a family."​

Social distancing can't weaken a bond.

"Just as long as we're all together," Gilmore added, "we're going to win."

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