Graduation at the ballpark?

School explores options, potential for outdoor ceremony May 30

by Tom Coombe
Ely’s historic baseball stadium has hosted countless tournaments and even a wedding. If all goes as planned, a high school graduation ceremony could soon be added to that list.
Amid a pandemic that has closed schools since mid-March, officials in the Ely district are exploring options that would allow the high school graduating class of 2020 to return to campus for an unconventional commencement.
“My hope is we’ll still have a May 30 graduation,” principal Megan Anderson told school board members Monday night.
The next day, Anderson confirmed that plans are in the works for a ceremony that would take place at Veterans Memorial Field - the baseball stadium located on the school campus.
Nothing is confirmed at the moment, and school officials are still awaiting guidelines from state officials, but in response to students and parents the Ely district is trying to come up with a way to hold graduation as planned, but not with hundreds jammed into Washington Auditorium as is the norm.
“We’re assuming social distancing will still be in effect,” said Anderson. “So we’ve talked about maybe using the baseball field, turning on the lights, and we could make it into an event.”
Anderson said that talk has centered on putting Ely’s 45-member graduating class on the field, spread out safely apart.
“It’s 45 kids compared to 450, we can social distance,” said Anderson.
The pitching mound would serve as the presenting area, while spreading the band and choir in the spacious outfield has also been discussed.
“We could make it a graduation ceremony with an outdoor venue,” said Anderson.
The stadium grandstand at the ballpark holds more than 500 people, while the adjacent first base bleachers have capacity for an additional 200-plus and a paved pavilion area, completed last summer, allows for handicap access and further standing and sitting room. It provides capacity for the district to allow at least some family members of the graduates to attend, while maintaining distance.
“My thought would be to allow families, a couple people from each family to be there, as many as we could safely spread out,” said Anderson. “This is a day to celebrate and we want to be able to have this for kids.”
Students have been away from school since March 17 because of the coronavirus, and Gov. Tim Walz announced last week that students would not return to school for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
Like all other schools across the state, Ely has adopted a distance learning format in which lessons and assignments are being completed with the help of technology, but the pandemic has cancelled all school activities.
The senior class trip to Washington, D.C., was among the casualties, while the April 18 prom was also postponed.
While the high school’s awards ceremony will move forward in a virtual format, Anderson said that a virtual graduation would be a “worst-case scenario” in Ely.
“The message we got from kids and senior families is they were really hoping to do something on the 30th,” said Anderson. “We want to be able to do something where kids get a diploma and be as safe as you can during the coronavirus.”