PIKE CREEK — For the 75 eighth-grade students who participate in athletics through St. John the Beloved Parish, the night of May 21 was supposed to be the culmination of their time as Eagles. The parish athletic association throws its soon-to-be graduates a banquet, complete with a slideshow and individual recognition.
All of that still happened, just without the banquet, and it was in the homes of each boy and girl. The athletic association and parents collaborated to make the evening as special as they could for the eighth-graders. Athletic director Todd Oliver said the sports family at St. John the Beloved wanted to give the graduating athletes something their predecessors had.
The first part of the recognition took place without the students’ knowledge. Parents drove to St. John the Beloved on May 20 to collect bags from athletic association officials. The bag included varsity letters, along with a flash drive containing a 40-minute video of highlights from the fall and winter sports seasons.
“It’s a special time because the night is all about them. We just celebrate everything they accomplished individually and as a team,” Oliver said.
“In an effort to try and return to some normalcy for these kids — because the month of May for eighth-graders is huge every year — we wanted to try to do something at least virtually to bring some normalcy back to them and to give them something to look forward to.”
Debbie Portale worked on the slideshow with another parent, Anne Mary Kluska. Portale was disappointed with the abbreviated ending to the Eagles’ seasons, but she wanted to make it as nice as possible for her son, Jake, and the other athletes.
“I was told years ago that St. John makes eighth grade really special. I’ve been involved with other stuff here … but I didn’t have an eighth-grader. Then two years ago I had an eighth-grader. And in between the live Stations, and the trips, and the retreats, everything. At least they got to do the faculty volleyball game during Catholic Schools Week. They really make it special,” Portale said.
The virtual banquet opened with a message from athletic association president Brian Ratasiewicz. Each student had his or her name read, at which time a parent would present them with their letter. Three St. John the Beloved alumni athletes, all of whom are seniors in high school, recorded speeches that were part of the ceremony. The high school seniors were Amanda Tucci of Saint Mark’s, Caitlin Donnelly of Padua and Brady McGovern of Salesianum.
St. John’s spring sports were ready to go, Oliver said. The track team was particularly excited to compete on the new track at Saint Mark’s.
“The rug was slipped out from under us,” he said. “I think at some point you step back and you’re thankful for everything that you have, but you just feel for the kids because there’s so much that they’re missing out on this month that you wish in some way you could change.”