The Hannibal softball team took time on its own senior night to honor a rival — a display of sportsmanship that came full circle.
The scene was set for the Hannibal softball team's senior night.
One by one, soon-to-be high school graduates made their way across the infield at Veterans Sports Complex to walk through a tunnel of aluminum bats held by girls on either side. At home plate, each senior was presented with a warm smile and a bouquet of flowers.
Shining a spotlight on each individual, the ceremony was well-orchestrated — a celebration done the best way the organizers in Hannibal's junior class knew how.
But that's not what made it spectacular.
In a display of pure sportsmanship, the first seniors Hannibal recognized were from the opposing team, which on the evening of Sept. 21 was North Central Missouri Conference rival Fulton.
Hannibal and Fulton meet for a third time this season at 7 p.m. on Thursday in the Class 3 District 8 semifinals.
The six seniors on the Lady Hornets roster were surprised by the gesture and moved by their opponent's appreciation. Fulton coach Laura Dooley-Wilder mentioned this was the first time in her life she's seen one team celebrate another.
“The girls loved it,” Dooley-Wilder said. “They were surprised to be honored at another team's senior night. I think it made our seniors realize their high school careers were coming to an end. I also believe it rekindled the leadership of my senior class.
“I thought it was a nice way to show how important sportsmanship is.”
When fifth-year Hannibal coach Kendra Murphy inherited the program, she was told early on that the junior class would be in charge of running senior night.
This year was no different.
Hannibal's five juniors approached Murphy with their idea.
“Is it OK if we buy (Fulton's seniors) flowers?” they asked.
“Yeah, absolutely, you can,” she replied. “It's your show.”
By celebrating Fulton's seniors first, the Hannibal juniors in no way intended to overshadow their own senior teammates, who moments later were treated to their own recognition.
Hannibal junior Lauran Haye said the goal was to make it a night players on both teams would never forget.
“I know if I was a senior I definitely would want to be appreciated on that night, even if it might not be my team,” said Haye, one of the ringleaders for the ceremony. “I think our seniors appreciated it because we're recognizing more than just the friendships on our team, but also recognizing the ones we can have outside of our teams and outside of school districts. That's just what the night's about.”
Lady Pirates junior Kennedy Schmohe noted the ceremony celebrating both teams wasn't an original idea.
“When we were playing Kirksville my freshman year, they recognized our seniors and I thought it was a really nice gesture,” she said.
“That was something that stuck with all of our girls,” Murphy added of Kirksville's 2015 display of sportsmanship. “Hey, this is awesome for another team to take time to honor us.”
A year ago, Hannibal's current seniors honored Rock Bridge's outgoing players by printing their names in a special program and giving each of them a shoutout.
This year's junior class took it a step further, and they hope the Hannibal program will make it a tradition.
“I'm hoping that they'll continue every year to go on and give those (opposing) seniors stuff too,” said Lady Pirates junior Taylor Wilson.
The kind-heartedness of this year's Hannibal team came full circle last Thursday at Rock Bridge, when the Lady Pirates' five seniors were recognized and given flowers by the Lady Bruins on their senior night.
"Very cool about it coming full circle," Murphy said.
Rock Bridge High School honored our five seniors tonight. @Hannibal_AD @klc81520 @datcoach_ap pic.twitter.com/jvEptdMD2u— Melissa Woodside (@MamaWoodside) September 29, 2017
There's been a lot of love shared between players on Missouri softball diamonds this fall.
These young people are setting an example to follow.
We can all take notice and take it to heart.