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Sullivan seniors to cross finish line at Bristol track

Rick Wagner • May 14, 2020 at 1:00 PM

BRISTOL — Sullivan County’s Class of 2020 and Bristol, Virginia, seniors are about to make some memories at the World’s Last Great Colosseum.

All four high school classes in the county will have the opportunity to participate in separate “Cross the Finish Line” celebrations at Bristol Motor Speedway. The celebrations will take place May 23 and 24, in addition to a Virginia High event on May 22.

The opportunity to drive on the World’s Fastest Half Mile is in addition to traditional Sullivan County graduation ceremonies tentatively set for July 31 and Aug. 1, depending on what health officials allow and the status of the novel coronavirus pandemic that cut in-person learning and school events short this year.

“This is not graduation,” Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox said Thursday afternoon, adding that there has been confusion expressed about that. “This is a separate event.” He said all 625 graduating seniors can participate with one vehicle each allowed on the track during the events.

The Sullivan County Department of Education made the BMS event announcement Thursday morning. In a Zoom news conference with reporters Thursday afternoon, BMS General Manager and Executive Vice President Jerry Caldwell confirmed the five high schools having events May 22-24.

“This facility belongs to the community,” Caldwell said. “We’re thrilled to be able to help out.”

BMS spokeswoman Becky Cox said other graduation events might be announced soon. “We’re having conversations, but it’s up to the schools” to announce plans, Cox said.

A Sullivan County news release said live-stream information and links for each Sullivan County high school’s event will be announced and shared soon on the Sullivan County Public Schools website at www.sullivank12.net, along with additional instructions still under development. For more information on the Virginia High event, go to that school’s Facebook page.

The events are:, 

5:30 p.m. Friday, May 22 — Virginia High School

1 p.m. Saturday, May 23 — Sullivan East High School

4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 23 — Sullivan Central High School

1 p.m. Sunday, May 24 — Sullivan North High School

4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 24 — Sullivan South High School

“We are extremely grateful to Bristol Motor Speedway for their willingness to share their facilities and to provide this event to honor our Sullivan County senior class of 2020,” the release from David Cox said. “We hope to see all of our seniors at the Last Great Colosseum next weekend.”

In an interview, Cox said BMS approached him about having an event for seniors.

Caldwell said BMS officials are happy to help send off seniors but emphasized the event would be completely in vehicles with the public not allowed in the stands or anywhere else at the track.

The BMS celebration grew out of feedback from senior leaders in all four high schools that supported such an event. In addition, a majority of seniors, 56 percent of those voting in an online survey, chose a traditional in-person graduation later in the summer rather than a limited in-person graduation at an earlier date. 

David Cox said a decision and planning about the July 31 and Aug.1 graduations would start around July 20 with the guidance of the Sullivan County Regional Health Department.

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