ATWOOD — Most of us don’t know when the end will occur.
Kaitie Wildman knows. It will stop with her.
When Atwood-Hammond holds its final graduation ceremony in 23 days, Wildman will be the last student to receive a diploma.
The school with an enrollment of 119 will close its doors for good next month. Next school year, the returning students will attend class in Arthur.
“Even when my dad (Mike) was in school, there was talk of consolidation or annexation,” Wildman said. “Now it’s reality. I guess it had to come at some point.”
Thirty-one students are in the final A-H graduating class.
Wildman is one of 16 upcoming A-H graduates who have attended school in the district since kindergarten. They’re trying to make the final year a memorable one.
“We’re incorporating the gym into team and class pictures,” Wildman said. “Everyone has made a point to get the school involved.”
Wildman is the pitcher for the cooperative Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond softball team that is unbeaten in seven Little Okaw Valley Conference games. The players have their eyes on the prize.
Her class, she said, “has never really won anything as a team. For it to be my last year and Atwood-Hammond’s last year would be really special.”
Mike Wildman has mixed emotions in the 25th year after he graduated from Atwood-Hammond.
“I’m for moving forward,” Mike Wildman said. “I like to see kids have more opportunities and better academics, but it’s bittersweet on the other end. I hate to see the town I’ve lived in my whole life lose a school. There was talk about it in 1989. Twenty-five years later, it has finally caught up to us.”
Few teams have caught up to Kaitie Wildman’s pitches this spring. She has a 12-4 record, including a 7-0 mark in LOVC games. A year ago, she was an All-Area special mention selection.
Since she entered high school, Atwood-Hammond has been in a sports co-op. For two years, the school joined forces with Bement to form South Piatt. When that disbanded, A-H became part of the Arthur-Lovington sports programs.
Volleyball last fall was the final girls’ sport featuring only Atwood-Hammond students. This spring, all of the softball games are being played in Arthur.
Wildman and her volleyball comrades had a memorable final match at home.
“We beat Okaw Valley on Senior Night,” Kaitie Wildman said. “I’ve never seen so much emotion in a gym. It was sad (thinking about the end), but joyous that we won the last volleyball game ever played there.”
Atwood-Hammond’s boys also are making noise as the semester nears an end. Last Friday, A-H secured two of the three qualifying berths for the May 9-10 bass fishing state meet.
Junior Jon Bialeschki and sophomore Zach Hingson were on the boat that finished as the sectional runner-up. Juniors Tyler Benedict and Austin Helfrich were on the Rajahs’ second boat that advanced to state.
Kaitie Wildman has tried — her best — not to dwell on what will become of the school building located within walking distance of her home. Instead, she is focusing on the memories.
“I look at it as instead of crying, you have to be happy to be in that moment with friends,” she said.
There are signs, however, that the end isn’t far off.
“Teachers are taking stuff out of their classrooms, and the school is starting to look bare,” Kaitie Wildman said. “It’s sad.”
Before the alphabetical list of Atwood-Hammond graduates gets to the W’s and Wildman, there will be other milestones achieved at the May 23 ceremony.
“We’ll have our first black graduate (Chantell Bonham),” Wildman said.
That will be followed by the second African-American graduate from the school, Jordan Feagin.
Before the end of Atwood-Hammond arrives, there’s still almost a month of memories to be made.
Mike Wildman and his wife, Cassi, don’t know how they’ll react when they hear their daughter’s name called to receive her diploma.
“It’s kind of neat that she will be the absolute last kid,” he said.
One ending will lead to a new beginning. Kaitie Wildman will enroll at Illinois State University in August. She plans to major in molecular and cellular biology and may even try to join the softball team as a walk-on.