Pickens honors senior athletes with banners along Main Street

By Bru Nimmons

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — The COVID-19 pandemic has left many things up in the air around the country, including many of America’s favorite pastimes.

All of America’s major sports leagues have shut down, and the South Carolina High School League has postponed athletics until at least the beginning of May.

With many of the county’s high school senior athletes preparing themselves for the possibility they will never take the field again, a group of local residents have stepped up to see that Pickens High School’s seniors get the recognition they deserve.

It all began over the weekend of March 28, as Gina Johnson scrolled through Facebook. Johnson, whose daughter, PHS senior Brooklyn Johnson, has been a member of the Blue Flame softball program since seventh grade, came across a post from a small town in Tennessee that caught her eye.

“In this town, they had put up the senior banners for spring sports in the downtown area,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a really nice gesture, so I shared it and tagged (Pickens athletic director Chad Smith) in it.”

The banners, which are usually large pictures of senior athletes with their name and sport, have become a rite of passage in high school sports, with many parents buying them as a token of appreciation for their students’ years of hard work. They are usually hung in the stadiums where the athletes play, but with no athletic events on the schedule for the foreseeable future, it was decided they should go to another home.

Smith saw the post taking on a life of its own, with many parents sharing the sentiment, and took to action. Smith contacted Pickens Mayor Fletcher Perry, who proved to be very receptive to the idea as well, having also heard it from fellow Pickens resident Kim Roper, and from there they got the ball rolling.

“It was a no-brainer,” Perry said of the city’s decision to put up the banners. “Words can’t express how I feel for these kids. It was gratifying to get them some recognition after what they’ve been through.”

Smith took the banners to Perry early the next week, and from there, Perry and the city worked to get them up. After getting approval from city council, Perry and Pickens public works director Phillip Trotter went about getting the posters up.

Trotter handled most of the logistics, having them placed back to back on posts along Main Street, with all 18 being up by Friday morning.

“The whole process took less than a week,” Smith said. “It’s been flat out amazing, and my hat goes off to the city of Pickens for making it happen so fast.”

The move has meant a lot to the community and especially the families of the athletes, as uncertainty continues to grow on the lasting effects of COVID-19.

“It’s been very important to me as a parent, and Brooke as a senior,” Johnson said. “She’s missing out on senior night, the prom and maybe even graduation. It shows a lot of love in the city and a positive outlook to do something like this.”

The three other county high schools are also working toward similar steps with their own senior athletes.

Daniel officials have talked to the city of Central about some possibilities and are currently planning a virtual senior night, while Easley officials are hoping to place their banners at the big fence at Brice Field due to a size difference between the banners and downtown signage, but are awaiting approval from district engineers.

Meanwhile, Liberty High officials are waiting for permission from the city to hang banners and hope to have them up by week’s end.