DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Gator senior crew enjoys memorable cruise

Just about everyone knows that Gators get around by crawling.  But did you know that they also can drive an automobile or SUV?

We saw it with our own eyes on Wednesday (June 3), when 277 of Xavier Prep’s 279 graduating seniors made a triumphant return to campus for the first Gator Senior Crawl.

The worldwide spread of the COVID-19 (Corona virus) had reduced the last several weeks of the 2019-20 school year to learning at home through electronic methods. Nothing on campus was allowed until the Crawl.

The girls drove to campus and entered the property from the southern edge, along Meadowbrook Avenue, and slowly wound their way through nine stations, culminating with the distribution of the much-sought-after yearbooks at the last stop.

The girls were not allowed to exit their vehicles. School faculty, coaches and staff members who were working and/or cheering the girls on wore bright red T-shirts supporting the seniors as well as masks to help enable social distancing.

Lacrosse/basketball athlete Tanya Barakat visits with Sr. Lynn Winsor (photos by Don Ketchum)

Upon arrival, the students had their last names affixed to the windshield (some of the girls car-pooled with as many as three in a vehicle).

They went through stations in the parking lots behind and to the east of Founders Hall and wound up heading west on the main drive along the north side of campus.

The first order of business was to pick up outfits from the annual Fashion Show, but these unfortunately were not worn this year because the event was a COVID casualty. Next was tied to the Gators Giving Back program, involving a book and uniform return.

The freshman and sophomore classes combined to give their senior big sisters a necklace/chain with a heart on it as a remembrance. The vehicles also stopped at stations for pickups of locker contents and various pieces of artwork. Then there were awards along with caps and gowns. Some of the seniors wore the caps to make it “official.’’

One of many inspirational messages.

The names of all seniors in 2019-20 adorn this sign.

The real graduation deal will come on Saturday (June 6) at nearby St. Francis Xavier Church. Graduates will be there in person, and family members can watch a live video feed at a couple of Xavier campus locations.

The vehicles continued to wind their way toward the home stretch and the traffic slowed a bit as it approached the stations where Srs. Joan Fitzgerald, Joanie Nuckols and Lynn Winsor found some shade and a front-row seat. Actually, for the always energetic Sr. Lynn, there wasn’t much shade or sitting. She walked along to each car to greet the girls and showed her appreciation.

Some girls car-pooled it and tested out their caps to prepare for Saturday's graduation.
“These girls have shown a lot of heart and they deserve this recognition,’’ Winsor said. “We have never really done this before, and our people who put this together did a great job.’’

Remaining dignitaries, including outgoing XCP Chaplain, Fr. Daniel Cruz, applauded and shouted encouragement as the vehicles passed closer and the occupants were asked which college they will be attending. To the credit of the school and its outstanding faculty, virtually all of the seniors will be continuing their education, some in-state and some beyond its borders.

Festive occasions would not be complete without music as part of the celebration. This one was no different as popular songs from Pharrell Williams, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, OutKast and Jennifer Lopez, among others, blared through loudspeakers. Varsity volleyball coach Lamar-Renee Bryant and frosh leader Jamie Itule provided some nifty dance moves while holding their signs and lacrosse assistant Clayton Zuba showed he has a few dance steps of his own.

Seniors bid farewell to their campus home.
The sisters provided gifts of a Gator-shaped cookie (complete with green frosting) from Grammy’s Cookies, and a gift card from Starbucks. The XCP Dad’s Club provided cold water for the support staff.

All sorts of signs were displayed. One said, “Remember to call your mother!’’

As the vehicles exited the drive, one last reminder clung to the gate: “2020 – Xavier will miss you!’’

It was a year that nobody will soon forget.

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