By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 28, 2020
ATLANTA—Will Auslander and some two dozen teammates met at the Monsignor Donovan High School soccer field in February with a goal of another trip to the state championship.
Auslander along with other seniors worked with a promising group of younger players, training them on the grassy pitch to fit them into the team’s style of play.
The team had a core of returning players who delivered the state championship trophy to the Rams nation in 2019, led by Coach Ed Rock. There was excitement to make another run for the May showdown at Mercer University.
“We felt we were a lot stronger than we were last year,” said Auslander, who plays defensive midfielder. “We felt we had a good chance at state this year.”
As a three-year captain, Auslander picked up the game at the age of 4. He’s a good student at the Athens independent Catholic school, with plans to attend Kennesaw State University to study engineering.
The team only got in two matches after rain canceled two games and the school closed because of the novel coronavirus.
“It was really disappointing because I was looking forward to playing a lot of games,” he said.
Since the early days of the shutdown, the coach continued to line the field hoping the season could be salvaged. The team had depth, lots of talents, and seniors instilled no-nonsense training rules.
“Everybody was working really hard,” said Coach Rock. “We wanted to win it again and nothing was going to get in our way. Who would have expected coronavirus?”
Adapting to change
The pathogen remade the traditional events marking the end of high school. The class of 2020 won’t have the senior group picture to show at its reunions. Families missed watching young women in gowns and men in tuxedos before the prom. There wasn’t “Pomp and Circumstance” playing as the teens filed into graduation ceremonies. In-person ceremonies with the 1904 graduation theme song have been postponed until June or July.
Instead, they watched classmates deliver speeches at virtual graduations. They saw each other in the grids of Zoom classrooms or Facetiming on their phones. Schools turned to Instagram and Facebook to honor seniors with special tributes.
Brianna Harris, a member of the advanced guitar program at St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, put in extra hours practicing the bass for a performance in front of a state panel of music educators. The school’s student guitar program earned the highest honors five years in a row. Students never got the chance to show their stuff this time around.
“That was kind of heartbreaking because we had wanted to go for a ‘six-peat,’” said Harris.
Student guitarists jammed with the help of technology, even piecing together a showpiece of rock classics including Pink Floyd’s “Money” and “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin.
Seniors got the all-clear in April to come to campus to clean out lockers, carting home four years of memories.
“It was a bit of mixed emotions. It was hard not to give hugs. It felt so surreal to see everyone in masks,” she said, speaking from her room covered with posters of rap artist Tyler the Creator, Atlanta band Lunar Vacation and reggae legend Bob Marley.
Her parents, George and Cathy Harris, with her younger sister, a rising junior at St. Pius, surprised her with a car parade of friends and family to celebrate graduation through their southwest Atlanta neighborhood. The family worships at St. Anthony of Padua Church, where she is an altar server and member of the Knights of Peter Claver Junior Daughters division.
Her father, George, said his daughter and other students learned a quick lesson about life’s ambiguity and complexity. In addition, there is resilience to “give yourself some grace … things that didn’t happen today, let’s see if you can make it happen tomorrow,” he said.
When you cannot do what you plan for, focus on goals you can accomplish, he said, adding it reminded him of lessons he learned as an Army officer.
Harris, who plans on attending Tulane University, New Orleans, learned the value of the small interactions in a student’s day when they didn’t happen. Random encounters in the hallways. Eating lunch with friends.
“We all kind of missed each other as a family. Going back and walking down the empty hallways was kind of crazy,” she said. “We didn’t get to have that ending moment.”
The show goes on
For four years, the small theater program at Notre Dame Academy gave Julia Brosas a way to express herself. She was president of the school’s thespian club and musical theater is what she intends to study at Florida Southern College, Lakeland, Florida.
Her December auditions landed her the role of Jo March in the spring production of “Little Women.” It was to be performed at the school’s George Student Center. About six weeks from opening night, Brosas began to see her Alliance Theater Teen Ensemble go dark.
“Everything was starting to fall into place,” she said about the school show, adding she was “holding on to the little bit of hope” it could still go on.
When school closed, rehearsals moved online where Brosas and her on-stage love interest, Professor Bhaer, played by junior Rohan Soni practiced lines on Zoom, as director Amy LoCurto guided them. Musical numbers were in the works. But then it was announced the show was off.
“It was heartbreaking. I was so happy to get the role. It was really sad,” she said. “I was going to leave it on my resume with an asterisk.”
The Brosas family, Mile and Jennifer, and two younger sisters, have made the most of the time, organizing a “Day in Paris” experience and a formal dance on their deck at their Peachtree Corners home. They are members of St. Brigid Church, Johns Creek.
Jennifer Brosas said her daughter’s passion for singing led to being a cantor at Mary Our Queen Church in addition to the stage. The family has been fortunate, but it’s been a weary time figuring out what’s the next best step, she said.
Brosas said she’ll miss the tight-knit community at the school. The class of 2020, with some three dozen young men and women, is the second graduating class at the independent Catholic school in Duluth. A school parade for graduating seniors is scheduled.
Said Brosas, “It ties a little ribbon on one thing before moving on to the next.”
Eye on the future
Without soccer training, Auslander found a new hobby: gardening. The family turned an area of their yard at their Monroe home into a garden, with rows of corn, sunflowers, potatoes and onions. It goes along with the family’s backyard chickens and selling of eggs.
“I’m not too good at planting, but I’m good at digging,” said Auslander, 18, the oldest of two sons of Cathy Mason and Chuck Auslander.
Will’s mom, Cathy Mason, is lamenting the loss of the rites of senior year for him. They attend St. Joseph Church, Athens.
“You feel like they don’t quite know what they are missing, but you do,” she said. “You want that for them.”
A visit from the school’s headmaster brought a celebratory yard sign and a Chick-fil-A gift. She’s holding out hope the school organizes a graduation ceremony in June with graduates and family spread out across a field.
“It’ll mean more to me than to him. He’s ready to be done,” said Mason. “It’ll mean something to me to see him in the cap and gown.”
With the soccer season behind him, Auslander is trying to think about a future on the college campus.
“It’s a hard time for seniors. I was really excited about prom,” he said.
His graduation day came and went.
“That was going to be a lot of fun,” said Auslander. “All year I was looking forward to May 16; now it’s May 19th.”