Kelli Withrow was known for her positive, inspiring and ‘bubbly’ personality among those she touched in her short life. After succumbing to a rare disease last fall, her Waynesville softball teammates and the community honored Withrow late last month during a game and raised money for a memorial scholarship fund in her name.
20 May 2008
In sports, there are ups and downs, wins and losses and subsequent joy and heartache.
Many draw parallels from sports to life as those who have participated in athletics look to their past experiences on the fields, courts and mats of competition long after their playing days are over to endure what life may throw their way.
Waynesville softball team was forced to draw on those lessons learned on the diamond while still in high school after losing one of their own last fall.
Junior Kelli Withrow, a first baseman for the Waynesville as well as a member of the golf team and concert band, began suffering from fevers and rashes last October and was ultimately diagnosed with Still’s Disease, a rare form of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Following the diagnosis, Withrow soon slipped into a coma and passed away.
“She was a great kid,” Waynesville head softball coach Dan Stupp said. “She was somebody that the girls really enjoyed being around and had a lot of energy and a great sense of humor.
“It definitely makes you think about how much time you really have and to take advantage of everything while you can. I think that was one of the bigger things (the players) got out of the whole situation.”
Said longtime friend and Waynesville catcher Erica Danner: “She always had a positive attitude out on the field and was always the one to get us up when we weren’t doing so (well). She was just always encouraging.”
The Waynesville football team wore stickers with her initials ‘KW’ on their helmets last fall in remembrance of Withrow. But the softball team wanted to have its own celebration of the 17 year-old’s life this season.
The Kelli Withrow Memorial Scholarship Fund was soon established.
“I talked to her dad (Bob) about possibly doing something and asked him if we could give towards the medical bills or to help the family out or towards a scholarship and he said he would like to give it towards a scholarship,” Stupp explained.
Thanks to a donation from a local apparel company, the softball team had pink t-shirts made with Withrow’s name and No. 35 on them to raise money for the Scholarship Fund.
And from American author Mark Twain, the team had the quote, “Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth” printed on the shirts as well.
“I don’t think I ever saw anything negative out of her for as long as I played with her. She was just always inspiring,” Danner said.
On April 30, both the softball and baseball teams wore the shirts in their respective games to honor Withrow.
“The girls wanted to wear them during the game and I had one of the baseball players approach me about wearing them in their game also because some of the guys had known her and wanted to help out,” Stupp said.
“Since the baseball team and softball team were playing on the same night, the baseball players couldn’t come to the game so that was kind of their way of being involved with it.”
Waynesville started the game against Monroe Lemon-Monroe with Withrow in the lineup and first base empty for the first pitch, which was thrown by her older sister Kristin – a Waynesville graduate and former softball player.
“I talked to her dad about throwing out the first pitch but he felt like he was a little too emotional for it,” said Stupp. “He was very supportive and very appreciative of what we did but he just had a really hard time with it.”
After the first pitch, a substitution was made and the game went on as scheduled.
Waynesville fell 15-8 in the game. But there were no losers that day as the team and those Withrow touched in her short time on this Earth remembered her and her positive, ‘bubbly’ personality.
“It was a really big game as far as honoring Kelli and it was really big for me because I was close to her,” Danner said. “Her passing was really hard and I felt we needed to honor her for what she meant to us.
“I played for her this season because her not being there was hard and everybody tried to have the attitude she did.
“She would be proud and she would be honored.”
The team raised $1,300 for the Scholarship Fund and Stupp hopes to continue the efforts in Withrow’s honor in the future.
“We are definitely interested in doing it as long as we have the support behind it,” he said.