Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A " Senior Night" Parents Guide

by Caroline Stanistreet

If you're the parent of a high school student-athlete who has made it all the way "to the end" - meaning your child is a SENIOR - who was not cut from the team, maintained good grades and kept cool throughout the perils and challenges of the high school atmosphere, then a BIG congratulations goes out to you! 

Eventually, and perhaps pretty soon, it will be time to think about the end of their sports season - and the end of their high school athletic career. You're probably aware of "Senior Night" (or in some instances, Senior Day) in which there are often beautiful, almost choreographed ceremonies honoring senior athletes and most often their parents, grandparents, siblings and the small villages who've all contributed to the success of their senior's athletic accomplishments. Due to certain sports with smaller numbers of athletes, it can be a scaled-down event, but it can be just as special and even a bit unique.

A few years ago when I was the parent of a sophomore golfer, I witnessed a lone mother who waited for her sole senior son to get off the bus from his final high school golf match. At the bus circle, she held two balloons and some flowers, so I got out of my car and joined her and rallied some other parents who were waiting to pick up their underclassmen golfers to join us in the tribute.  He was touched by his 15 seconds of fame, and I told myself I would try to honor my son with some sort of recognition when the time came for him. That was in October of 2015, which seemed like yesterday, but happily for him, he was in a group of 6 seniors (which was half the golf team), but we spent a sunny fall afternoon for about a half hour with cupcakes, gifts of embroidered Wildcat golf towels - and even a gracious opposing team (who lost to my son's team, which always makes the event more enjoyable!).

If you have a high school athlete who is approaching this phase in his or her life, and even if you're the parent of a freshman, here are some organization tips and suggestions to start - or continue - this fun tradition for your high school senior athlete.  If your child plays a sport that does not require the philosophy of "many-hands-make-light-work," perhaps you can still take away some ideas that will help your senior athlete enjoy his final moments of high school sports.

CORNER THAT COACH - Always, always, reach out to the coach first if this not an annual tradition with your school and sport! They are usually quite receptive to this event and will likely work with you on some potential dates that will fit everyone involved. If there is already a "Team Mom" or "Team Manager," then request that he or she act as the liaison with the coach. If for some reason you cannot contact the coach (they may not work in the school district), then contact your school's athletic office and they can locate him or her (Note: The athletic director always appreciates an invitation and a cupcake too).

IT'S A DATE! - Review the dates and times to insure there are no conflicts with other significant school events. Most often, Senior Night will coincide with the last home game, meet, or match of the season. Once booked, write down a tentative itinerary of what will be happening during that special block of time with the seniors. 

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION - On the 50-yard line of the football field? Standing on the 3-meter board? Near the tennis courts? Or in the school gymnasium? Coordinate the spot with the coach, groundskeepers, rink manager, and custodial staff ahead of time. Every sport is different, so even if it's something small like a few picnic tables near the 9th green of the golf course, get the O.K. for the right venue to make it a memorable setting for the seniors. 

FORM YOUR POSSE - Put together an email list of senior parents as well as junior parents, who will be interested in carrying on this rite of passage for their child the following year. If your senior athlete is on a large team (football, basketball, track, hockey, lacrosse), then add on underclassmen parents to this list as well.  They may want to either observe - or participate! Your child's coach will likely have a contact list which will reduce the time to form a large group email.  Parents at some high schools already have an understanding that junior families must spearhead and organize the event so the senior parents don't have to think about it.  With some teams, parents are also expected to contribute a small amount of money for the senior gifts, or do some fundraising to offset the costs. Always "cc" the coach on everything too, he or she may have some suggestions as well.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER - If you are dealing with several seniors, then be certain you know who those seniors are, and don't leave anyone out!  Ask the senior parents to email you their own first names as well as the senior athlete's siblings and grandparents (there is the possibility of an announcer who may read this information, so spell names out phonetically if needed). Find out where their son/daughter will be attending college (if they have decided), and if they'll continue on with their athletic career. You can also provide the senior athletes with a profile or survey - for example, who is their favorite athlete, what is their go-to meal, song, and what was their funniest or most memorable moment on the team? Have them turn it in so the information can be announced, or write some of the answers on a poster with their picture.  

MAKE YOUR "HONEY-DO" LISTS - Remember, parents DO want to help, so creating a list or a few lists and delegating authority will ease the burden on everyone. Simply shoot out a group email with the lists attached and request they "reply to all" so everyone's in the loop and no effort is duplicated. One list can be for the food and drinks, plates and cups, and other reception-related items. Then, create another list for buying/making decorations and the set up/take down. You can also make a list for making the gifts for the athletes and collecting money.  One veteran senior parent from New Jersey recruited another parent to put together a slide show.  It had pictures sent in from kids playing their sport since they were quite young, for example, Pop Warner and modified football. If you need to set up a meeting, do it after a practice to make it convenient for everyone and give them ample notice, and after the meeting ends, write a detailed, follow up email in case anyone missed it. 

CRAFTY GIFTS AND DECOR - Depending on the budget, you can create a simple gift if you cannot purchase something more elaborate. There always seems to be an abundance of untapped talent in parent groups (Confession: on my son's golf team, I was lucky enough to have a fellow senior parent who was a professional baker). How about those amazing "artsy" parents - you know, the ones who never got over doing endless crafty science or reading projects with their young children - and are overjoyed and eager to decorate posters or bedazzle picture frames?  And say it with flowers - If this is going to be a larger event with family members, order extra flowers to give to mom, grandma and the sisters. 

IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR - If there are parents who didn't sign up for anything due to work constraints, travel, or just forgetting and feeling guilty about it, then use them for senior night decorations, or even set-up. You can always designate a family as "Senior Master Balloon Inflators."  Ask the family to fill up a large trash bag size of blown-up balloons, a task they can do while watching TV some night prior to Senior Night - and they would probably love it!  (By he way, an arc of balloons is always a crowd pleaser) Siblings (younger sisters in particular) also turn out to be THE BEST when it comes to helping, so if you can find some of them to assist with pre-festivity decorating, get them on board.

THE TIME IS DRAWING NEAR - Review your itinerary, and be sure to stay in constant communication with the parents on your list as well as the coach. Send reminder emails with the date and time in the subject line, and attach the updated lists. 

SAVOR THE MOMENT - Have your phone and camera fully charged that day, arm yourself with extra tissues in your pocket, and ENJOY!  The  moment will go quickly, but with the right preparation, it will create a wonderful and lasting memory for the senior athlete and family.