Across the country, college and high school student-athletes didn’t get the chance to play their final games due to the coronavirus outbreak.
As sports abruptly stopped, so did the winter sports seasons, with spring sports seasons canceled shortly after.
Along with others at ESPN, SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt noticed this and wanted to do something. Thus #SeniorNight was born as a way to bring recognition to the athletes across ESPN platforms.
On March 13, Van Pelt launched things when he sent a tweet to his 2 million followers asking for stories he could tell on the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter:
So many college and HS athletes saw their seasons, maybe their playing careers, just….end.
No send off, no nothing.
We want to fix that. Share their stories, photos & videos here. We should certainly have the room for some join the show. Let’s celebrate them #SeniorNight
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) March 13, 2020
The tweet was retweeted and shared thousands of times and became Van Pelt’s most-engaged social post ever. The responses began pouring in, and on March 15, he ran the first #SeniorNight installment:
We will have our first installment of #SeniorNight tonight. Some athletes/teams from Illinois, New Jersey & Arkansas get us started. We will do our best to share as many as we can in the coming days/weeks/months. Thanks so much for the thousands of submissions.
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) March 16, 2020
On ESPN.com, compilations of the SportsCenter highlights appeared (see video at top of the post).
Also, ESPN senior writer Wayne Drehs wrote ESPN.com features after reporting on some of the #Senior Night stories – and he appeared on SportsCenter to discuss:
Thanks again to @notthefakeSVP and @SportsCenter for having me on last night to talk #SeniorNight and the inspirational way so many from the Class of 2020 are handling a world they never imagined. https://t.co/6usL73ipSM
— Wayne Drehs (@espnWD) March 20, 2020
ESPN’s marketing department ran promotional spots on networks, digital and radio, and the initiative began to generate stories in local media outlets around the country (including this example from The Baltimore Sun).
The initiative expanded to ESPNU on March 23, with the network beginning a presentation of 12 hours of games each day to celebrate the careers and performances of several student-athletes who made their mark on the sport throughout the season, but saw it end prematurely as a result of the cancellation of high school and college tournaments:
⛹️♂️ Men's college basketball
⛹️♀️ Women's college basketball
🏀 High school basketball
Begins Monday | Noon ET | ESPNU
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) March 22, 2020
How big has #SeniorNight become? As of this week, there had been more than 10,000 submissions with the #SeniorNight hashtag via Twitter and Instagram and 4.5 million video views across digital and social platforms. Both numbers are still growing.
“It’s a beautiful reminder of what sports represent,” Van Pelt told the New York Daily News. “Sports is the greatest connector we have as a society. This is just proof of it again.”
Anna Negron and Kimberly Elchlepp contributed to this post.