Field dedication adds poignancy to Foran HS softball's return to play
High school spring sports are in full swing after a longer than normal offseason due to COVID.
But for the Foran High School softball team, the return is extra special because of where they're playing--a new field named for an old player, Danni Kemp.
"She was probably individually the most talented player I ever coached," said former Foran softball coach Jeff Bevino.
Bevino has coached a lot of kids over the years -- including 35 football players who made the NFL. But he says no one like Danni. Danni Kemp was a four-year starter for Foran, playing catcher and shortstop -- or whatever was needed -- until she graduated in 2015.
"She could throw the ball harder than anybody. She could run faster than anybody. She could play any position. She could bunt. She could hit for power. There wasn't anything that she couldn't do," Bevino recalled.
That included getting a scholarship to play Division 1 ball at Stony Brook University. After a successful first season there, Danni came home for the summer and played for the Stratford Brakettes. During a game in July, she got hit in the head with a pitch.
"It wasn't a terrible hit. She laughed on her way down to first base," said mom Melinda Kemp.
"Shortly after that, she started experiencing some dizziness," added dad Cliff Kemp.
"Then her balance was off, so we were like, 'Well maybe you did get a concussion,'" Melinda Kemp told News 12.
Danni Kemp's parents brought her to see a specialist, who was also convinced she had a serious concussion but wanted to rule everything.
"So they did a CAT scan and an MRI, and that's the day we'll never forget," Cliff Kemp said.
"I knew when the nurse came out to get Cliff and I that something was wrong," Melinda Kemp remembered.
Danni Kemp was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, an inoperable brain tumor that's in the pons region of the brain.
"Like 1% of children diagnosed--1%--make it to five years. The typical life expectancy is seven to nine months," explained Cliff Kemp.
"As a parent you're like, 'Oh my gosh!' My heart sank," Melinda Kemp recalled.
But Danni Kemp didn't care about the prognosis--she wanted to fight.
She posted the news on Facebook writing, "God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers"
"And that was her attitude--'I'm gonna beat this.' So we're like, 'OK, that's the attitude that we have to have," said Melinda Kemp.
"She taught us how to do this--how to handle it, deal with it. We just followed her lead," Cliff Kemp said.
Danni Kemp fought with a growing team behind her.
"She was fearless. She was absolutely fearless. She never wanted anybody to feel bad for her," Bevino said with a smile.
Danni Kemp's story became Milford's story, then the softball community's. Teams around the country wore "Danni Strong" T-shirts and bracelets in her favorite shade of blue. Well-wishes even came from athletes like softball great Jennie Finch.
"I have boxes and boxes of cards from colleges from all over, " Melinda Kemp told us. "The U.S. Olympic team did a Zoom for her-- the softball Olympic team. They were amazing."
Fundraisers and donations helped the Kemps try any possible treatment.
"You do a lot of praying. I mean, at least we did," said Melinda as she got emotional. "But the one thing we wished was that if he was going to take her, to take her peacefully, and he did."
Danni Kemp passed on March 10, 2017.
"It took our perfectly healthy Division I athlete--it took her in seven months," Cliff Kemp said.
"I'm gonna be quite honest, I was crushed. I'm still crushed," added Bevino.
It's been just over four years since Danni Kemp died.
The events in her honor have continued -- now raising money to find a cure for DIPG so one day it won't be a death sentence.
"We feel her presence, you know? We feel her around us all the time," Cliff Kemp told us.
That's especially so on a sunny Saturday in April at a special dedication ceremony for Danielle Kemp Memorial Field.
"It's amazing to see her name out there," Melinda Kemp said. "I know she'd be so, so proud but she'd also be so, so humbled by it."
Milford Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Amy Fedin told the crowd, "The foundation for the building of this field was built upon the pride and love that so many people in our Milford Public Schools community and beyond shared for this special young woman."
It's a field that will inspire future female athletes to play with passion and battle to the end.
"She would've said, 'What the's big fuss?'" Bevino added.
She was the big fuss.
Foran High School reinforced that by also retiring Danni Kemp's No. 8 jersey.
"She loved this game so much and she worked hard at it, but she had fun,” Melinda Kemp recalled. “And I think the backstop says it all, 'Play like Danni.'"