If ever a graduating class deserved one last hurrah, it was the class of 2020. And for one group of close-knit friends among Delran High School’s newest alumni, the goodbye gathering even extended to their families.
Roughly two dozen dads and grads (and a granddad, too) took to Mt. Laurel’s TopGolf Aug. 9 for an evening of friendly competition among a second family that went from a core group of 12 friends who have remained close since at least middle school, some even earlier.
“It’s amazing that they’ve all stayed together like this because cliques change as soon as you hit high school,” said Andy Lavery, who helped organize the gathering. “I’m very happy they’re all still this close.”
With so many of high school’s biggest milestones canceled or modified because of the pandemic, and with many college students finding out their freshman year will begin virtually, Lavery wanted to make sure his son, A.J., and his friends got the sendoff and celebration their changing experiences and longstanding friendships deserved.
“This seemed like a great way to send them off to that great college experience — even though the ‘great college experience’ we promised them now might be delayed for another six months,” Andy said.
Vacations and the military kept the full group from convening one last time, but the band of friends and family was as complete as logistics allowed. Dean Casale and his father, Matt, were among those who came out for the evening, and the younger Casale doesn’t see his friendships fracturing despite everyone heading in different directions.
“Who knows where everyone will go and end up after this summer?” asked Dean. “Me and my friends have been a tight group since we were very young, so I don’t think much will change. I hope it doesn’t change.”
The event, of course, was a unanimous hole in one.
“It was great,” Andy Lavery said. “For all the things these guys have been through, they needed to get together one last time before they all go off to college and the military.”
“Andy and TopGolf did an incredible job,” Matt Casale added. “It was really nice for our sons and us dads to get together and have a good time. We all had a lot of fun.”
To add to the festive atmosphere, the get-together even included a competitive spin: Each father-and-son pair was vying for the evening’s $75 grand prize and bragging rights.
In the end, Lavery just wanted to make sure his son and the friends he’d grown up with got a sendoff they deserved.
“They are all such great kids — they’d have to be for all of us to hang out for two hours without killing each other,” Lavery said with a laugh. “You normally don’t see a bunch of sons who want to hang out with their dads and grandfather.”
But it belies an enduring closeness among friends that has even extended to their parents, who have gone on vacations together and have monthly gatherings of their own.
“This is a group of really great kids whose parents are really, really good people,” Casale said. “Everyone gets along. Some of these guys have been friends since preschool: I have two sons of my own, but I feel like some of these kids are my third, fourth and fifth sons, too.”
“Having our sons always doing and planning things together, the dads all got a lot closer because of it,” Lavery agreed. “Even though our kids are going off to college and the military, I think the dads will stay in touch with each other.”
The overall camaraderie was not lost on the recent high school grads, who appreciate that their fathers have developed friendships among themselves.
“I enjoyed watching all the dads make fun of each other,” Dean joked.
It all made for a memorable capstone to a tumultuous year, and Lavery is simply grateful for one more opportunity to see his son and his closest friends enjoy each other’s company one last time.
“In another five or 10 years, what I’ll remember most is how happy my son was whenever he got to experience things like this with his friends,” he said.
And one of those friends knows exactly what he’ll take away from the dads’ and grads’ celebratory night out. According to Dean: “I’ll remember everything.”