Newton High School graduation ceremonies moved to Hartman Arena

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Henry Claassen tosses his cap at the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony Aug. 1, 2020, at Newton High school. Graduation is being moved for the class of 2021 to Hartman Arena in Park City.

Graduation ceremonies for Newton High School looked very different in 2020, thanks to COVID-19 and stay-at home orders that initially canceled the ceremonies altogether before school administration found a way to host at least a facsimile of the ceremony. 

On Aug. 1, 2020, families were able to drive their graduate to the front of the school, where graduates walked across a small stage and received a diploma. Graduates also had their photos taken and had the opportunity to throw their caps at a cap-throwing station before picking up a pair of sunglasses.

And graduation will look much different again this year. 

Graduation ceremonies for Newton High School Class of 2021 will be hosted at Hartman Arena, a 5,000-seat multipurpose arena in Park City next to Interstate 135. 

Caleb Smith, principal of Newton High School, consulted with Student Council representatives and the high school site council about options for granduation — and both expressed support for moving the event to the arena this spring. 

"The main reason is this the scenario that has happened a couple of times recently with weather forcing graduation inside," Smith said. "Moving inside is not an option with COVID this year. ... With COVID, if we had to do that, we would have to turn a lot of people away."

Traditionally graduation has been hosted at Fischer Field in Athletic Park — with the ceremony moved to Ravenscroft Gymnasium in the event of rain. That limited seating dramatically those years, with each senior provided about four tickets to the gymnasium and/or the theater auditorium some years.

"We will not have to be worried or concerned with weather concerns," said Fred Van Rankin, superintendent of Newton USD 373. 

In the past 30 years, graduation has been moved from the Fischer Field location only twice unrelated to weather. Both times the event was at Newton High School — during renovations to Fischer Field graduation was moved to the practice field/track at the school. Last year the ceremony was in front of the school for the drive-thru ceremony.

Smith said with social distancing guidelines for COVID-19, the number of people who could be at a graduation in the school building would be miniscule. 

"With COVID, we simply cannot have people packed into the gym like that," Smith said. 

District adminstration estimates that there will be about 4,000 tickets available for a socially distanced ceremony at Hartman Arena. That final number will be set later, by the Sedgwick County Board of Health. 

There will be a meeting between district staff and Hartman Arena officials at the end of March to iron out more details concerning graudation. Smith told The Kansan that tickets to graduation will be divided among graduating seniors. 

"We'll be all right," Smith said. "I think we will be fine. If grad was tomorrow we would do six to eight tickets per kid." 

It is not known if the move to Hartman for graduation ceremonies will be a permanant change to tradition. 

"There is a strong tradition of doing it at the football filed, and I do not know if we will return to that after COVID has died down," Smith said. 

In another break from tradition, prom planners are discussing the possibility of hosting prom at Fischer Field this year in an effort to allow for social distancing — moving the prom out of Ravenscroft Gymnasium for the first time.

"They have some hurdles they have to jump through," Van Rankin said. "They are looking at doing some cool things with the community on that. ... We have looked at some other venues outdoors. We really do not want to have an indoor prom it possible."