KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) High school students in the Class of 2020 are having to sit out on milestones to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
A few of students are working to ensure they have at least one event to look back on: Prom.
It is the black-tie event that many high school students look forward to at the end of their high school career. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, a few Dobyns-Bennett High School seniors are hoping they can knock this memory out of the park, at The Dugout Kingsport.
“I was able to call a couple of my good friends and get a few people together, start looking for places and making plans, and this is what we were able to get,” Dobyns-Bennett High School senior, Garrett Payne said.
- PREVIOUS STORY: Garrett Payne is no stranger to WJHL. He was featured in a story in October of 2019: Dobyns-Bennett student takes action as teacher’s brother battles cancer
In a little more than a month, this ballpark will be spruced up into a ballroom.
For seniors like Payne, the idea of not having prom was unfathomable.
“We’re really hoping that this is able to work because I know a lot of people are scared of being sick and there’s a lot of bad stuff happening, but this is also really, really important to us. People will underestimate us not getting our prom and not getting our graduation but the way a lot of us see it, is it’s not really fair, as everybody who says that got their senior prom and got their graduation, and so they don’t really understand,” Payne told Pheben Kassahun.
More than 540 seniors at Dobyns-Bennett High School will receive their high school diploma this summer, but commencement plans are still uncertain. Payne was hoping he and a couple of his friends, Brook Coggins and Victoria Fish, could at least solidify prom plans.
They began planning in April, once seniors realized they would not return to see one another in their final year.
Organizers have created strict plans in order for students to be safe.
“We still want everybody to know that we’re still going to follow the rules and the protocol that we would if it was a school prom. We’re still going to have security. We’re still going to have the same rules. We’ll have wristbands for when you come in and when you leave, they’re cut off. You will not be allowed back in,” Payne explained.
The prom is expected to be housed in the new baseball and softball dugout, which spreads 1600 square-feet and can hold up to 350 people at once.
The even is not affiliated with the Kingsport City Schools System.
Because the event is not affiliated with the school system, the students are using their own money and donations to put on the event.
Payne and his friends plan to donate the rest of the money left over from the event to charity.
“They need to have their senior prom,” The Dugout Kingsport owner, Cory Martin said. “With everything going on right now, some people want to be hesitant and I understand that but we want to give back to the community.”
Cory Martin, a Dobyns-Bennett alumnus class of 1996, owns the dugout and could not turn away from his maroon and gray.
“We’re providing this facility and we’re just going to let them have at it, and do what they want with it, while taking the necessary precautions,” Martin said. “It’s going to be staffed, it’s going to be security. It’s going to be the real deal. We’re not going to bush-league it and it’s going to be good for these seniors.”
“A lot of it is going to be safety. Our biggest thing is, we understand with the coronavirus and all the guidelines, which is why we pushed it out well over a month and a half of when Tennessee started its reopening phase. If need be, we can push that back even more,” Payne explained.
However, ahead of the June 13 date, health officials are discouraging the prom plans because groups larger than ten do not cooperate with Tennessee’s Phase 1 guidelines.
“As we go into Phase 2, we have to have a downward of progression of our cases, decreased influenza-like illnesses. And, in Phase 2, we can more towards groups of 50 or more, but to social distancing, the parameter will still be in there,” Sullivan County Regional Health Department regional medical director, Dr. Stephen May said.
“If people come and they want to wear masks and they want to wear gloves, then that’s perfectly fine. If they want to stay away from people, that’s their own choice, but we’re not going to be enforcing a separation,” Garrett said. “If you’re not comfortable, with the situation, then you don’t have to come, because I understand there are going to be some people that are not ready for that yet.”
Doctor May encourages to still practice social distancing and wear a face mask in public, even when the state gets to Phase 2 and even when Tennesseans are asymptomatic.
“Complacency is our biggest enemy and we must be on our guard to prevent that,” Dr. May said. “We are just now beginning to get things open. We don’t want to risk a major resurgence and have to go backward. So, it’s really important that we try to follow these guidelines in a controlled phase.”
Doctor May advises Tennesseans to protect the ‘special population’ and does not want healthcare systems to be overwhelmed again.
“We just need to be careful that we protect each other, and particularly, for young people, it may not be such a bad illness, but for the elderly or those at high risk, complications, and co-morbidities, it can be deadly,” Dr. May said. We need to remain socially connected, but physically distanced.”
Payne said, “We just really want to do this to have everybody together for one last time.”
The event flyer states only graduating seniors from Dobyns-Bennett High School are allowed to attend. Upperclassmen attending with a senior may be permitted, according to the flyer.
Prom is scheduled for Saturday, June 13 at 8 p.m. at 765 E. Main Street, Kingsport, Tennessee 37660.
Tickers are $15 per person and $30 per couple. Further questions and RSVP are to be relayed to email@example.com or by calling (423) 306-7663.