Baseball stadium to host Polk County high school graduations

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A baseball stadium graduation is one way to cap off a curveball-filled end to a high school career.

“Twenty years from now that high school senior is going to say ‘I got my diploma on home plate at Joker Marchant Stadium and Publix Field,’” Lakeland Parks & Recreation Director Bob Donahay said with glee.

The City of Lakeland and the Detroit Tigers offered to host Polk County’s high school graduations at the stadium the Tigers call home during spring training.

“Graduation is what I’ve looked forward to my entire life,” said Rachel Williams, a senior at Winter Haven High School.

Williams was part of the majority of the county’s 5,800 seniors who voted for a traditional ceremony to be held in June or July.

“Just being able to be surrounded by my classmates, I think that’s a big honor,” she said. “It’s not what I planned for senior year, we’re still trying to make the best of it.”

COVID-19 guidelines had already forced them to miss the last few months of school, prom and threatened their graduation.

“Graduation is kind of a chance to have a last goodbye for our friends and our teachers. So I was excited. It’s not ideal of course, but we’re not in ideal circumstances right now. So I was grateful for the people that were able to make that happen,” said Kailee Fogel, a senior at George Jenkins High School.

“We take a little pride in the fact that Lakeland and Polk County is the first one doing this in an open air stadium,” said Donahay. “This is an opportunity for us to give back to our seniors that are graduating. It’s a big responsibility. We all understand that.”

Polk County Public Schools has been consulting with the Polk County Health Department on the appropriate measures to take to safely hold nearly two dozen ceremonies beginning June 6.

“Being outside in the open air is better than being in an enclosed arena,” said Tami Dawson, Polk County Public Schools’ regional assistant superintendent for high schools.

Everyone in attendance will have to wear masks and get their temperature checked.

“It’s only a few seconds to take a temperature and we have a plan in case somebody is over 100,” said Ron Myers, director of Florida Operations with the Detroit Tigers.

Guests will be required to stay six feet apart.

“Each graduate will receive an envelope that’s going to have four tickets in it. Nobody’s gonna be able to come and bunch up. You’re gonna have assigned seating,” explained Donahay.

The stadium bowl can seat 7,335. The largest graduating class is approximately 700 students.

“That’s 2,800 people in the stands. That’s not even a third of the seating area that’s going to be taken up,” said Donahay.

Donahay tells 8 On Your Side all seats, handrails, bathroom areas and other commonly-touched places will be sanitized after each ceremony.

Polk County Public Schools will reassess the situation in the last week of May and has alternate dates in July available if necessary.

You can learn more about the plans and dates for each graduation on the Polk County Schools website.

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