NEW PALESTINE — Kaylee Kropp dashed around the softball field, putting the finishing touches on the decorations for the event honoring her friend.
A friend who should have been there beside her.
Kropp’s friendship with Brooke Buttler sprouted and grew on this softball diamond behind New Palestine High School. They shared countless laughs amid the sweat that came with hard work and tears that came with defeat, and it’s those moments Kaylee will miss most as she faces a season without her best friend.
Buttler, a 2016 New Palestine graduate, died Sunday after a brief battle with ovarian cancer. She was 18 years old.
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Buttler’s friends had intended for her to attend the fundraiser, to be in the stands to see the community rallying around her. When Buttler died suddenly earlier this week, it became even more important for them to come together as a gesture to the Buttler family and to celebrate the young woman’s life, Kropp said.
Hundreds of students, teachers and community members, led by the members of the Dragons softball team Buttler left behind, gathered at the high school Tuesday for a Wiffle ball tournament fundraiser in the teen’s memory.
Kropp, a current New Palestine senior, took the lead in getting Buttler’s former class and teammates involved with the tournament.
Wearing a teal T-shirt, a color associated with ovarian cancer awareness efforts, and a white ribbon decorated with the friend’s old jersey number, Kropp darted around before the event began, setting up tables, decorating the stands with teal balloons and greeting visitors with smiles and waves.
And when she stopped for a moment Tuesday to look around, to remember her upbeat friend whose bright smile now exists only in memory, she began to cry. It’s been a difficult few days for everyone who knew Buttler, Kropp said, especially the teammates she’d grown to think of as sisters.
From now on, they’ll take the field with Buttler in mind, just as they did this week.
“She would have loved to see all of this,” Kropp said, blinking back tears, her voice cracking slightly.
Buttler was a member of the top-ranked Dragons softball team, whose 13-game winning streak ended only with a loss at regional championship game in June.
Buttler planned to attend and play softball for Hanover College. She’d hoped to pursue a career in the medical field.
But those dreams were cut short by a cancer diagnosis in late June — a rarity for someone her age, according to experts.
According to the National Cancer Institute, fewer than 1 percent of ovarian cancer patients are younger than 20 years old. Most women who face the diagnosis are in their 60s.
Buttler’s battle with cancer was a private one, her friends and teachers said. She was formally diagnosed over the summer after falling ill, and, initially, only her closest family knew of the prognosis, said Ed Marcum, New Palestine High School head softball coach.
Slowly, in the past month or so, Buttler began to tell her friends and former classmates, including her softball team members and their parents, that she was fighting the disease, Marcum said.
In response, they banded together to organize a fundraiser on Buttler’s behalf.
Nearly 200 community members signed up to participate in the tournament, each giving $10 to participate, and hundreds more turned up at the high school softball diamond, cash in hand, to watch, donate and bid on raffle items.
The event raised money to help Buttler’s family cover the cost of her medical bills and funeral. But even more so, it was a night of laughter and smiles amid days of sadness.
Buttler was the type of student everyone loved to be around, Marcum said. She was always eager to help her teammates and to mentor younger girls who had a passion for softball, too.
“She just had a great heart and such a great spirit,” Marcum said. “She was a fighter, and we knew all summer she would fight … so it’s just so tragic.”
Buttler brought to the classroom the same drive and determination she showed on the field, her teachers said.
Keith Fessler, New Palestine High School principal, said Buttler was smart, regularly receiving honor roll recognition for her good grades. She was funny in a sly way, Fessler said, catching her teachers off guard with a witty comment or joke.
The high school’s hallways have been a bit quieter this week as students mourned their former classmate, Fessler said.
“… She made a big impact while she was here with a lot of different people, including me,” Fessler said.
That impact was clear Tuesday as the first batter stepped to the plate and kicked off a night of friendship Buttler would have enjoyed.
“Brooke didn’t have a bad bone in her body,” Kropp said. “She was always upbeat, and her family deserves our support.”
Staff writer Kristy Deer contributed to this report.