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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Central Coosa's Donta Daniel is honored at a makeshift graduation ceremony Friday night. Daniel, a multi-sport athlete for the Cougars, is entering the Army and will miss next week's graduation ceremony.

Every year, Central Coosa’s baseball team plans a ceremony to honors its baseball seniors as well as the Diamond Dolls, which are a group of senior girls who help the team throughout the season.

This year, the Cougars knew it couldn’t be quite the same but Friday night’s ceremony wasn’t all that different from the norm. There was social distancing practiced and not as many parents were allowed on the field, but other than that, the 15 seniors still got their shadow boxes and were recognized by baseball coach Dave Stover.

But one big difference in Friday’s ceremony was Donta Daniel was also honored with a mini-graduation. Daniel, who is leaving for the Army on Monday and will miss Coosa’s regularly scheduled graduation Thursday, came out donning his cap and gown after the baseball seniors were recognized.

It was important for Stover to do something extra special for Daniel because Stover said he’s the epitome of a student-athlete.

“I promised him a long time ago that he was going to walk at some point,” Stover said. “He’ll be gone before graduation, so I arranged with (Coosa County Schools superintendent) Andi (Wilson) to come out and let him do a little ceremony to walk out and get his diploma.”

Daniel was a three-sport athlete for the Cougars his entire high school career and was a starter for both the football and baseball teams. He was the catalyst for any success Coosa found on the gridiron and during his moments off the bench for the boys basketball team, he shined there too.

But more than that, Stover felt Daniel deserved to be recognized for what he accomplished at school.

“There are kids that you meet when you’re an educator that are extra special and he’s one of those,” Stover said. “He works hard in everything he does, and he’s just a good kid. He’s an awesome role model. I look for that in kids; he’s respectful and family-oriented and an all-around kid. He’s a great American kid.”

After the coronavirus pandemic shut down the spring sports season, Stover knew he was going to find a way to get his group together one last time. He had been in talks with other coaches about just getting together for a pick-up game but when the AHSAA said no summer competition will be allowed this year, Stover knew that wasn’t going to happen.

That made it even more important to have this ceremony for his baseball seniors — even if it was at a distance.

“We didn’t win a lot of games over the last couple years, but at the end of the year, I always wanted our guys to have something to remember their years of sports and dedication,” Stover said. “It’s a lot harder to come to practice when you’re not winning, and they always kept coming and trying to get better. I think that shows good character.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.