The suicide of an 11-year-old Champaign County girl after her parents said she faced bullying has affected people around the country, including a softball team in Missouri.
The U-16 3n2 Force softball team has dedicated their 2017 season to former Triad Middle School student Bethany Thompson and an anti-bullying campaign. It will kick off on Saturday night with an anti-bullying forum in Holden, Mo., where the team will hand out bracelets and host Bethany’s mother, Wendy Feucht, and a leading voice in anti-bullying, Gabrielle Ford.
Bethany’s story has made national headlines. She was a cancer survivor who’s smile became crooked after surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. Her parents said she was bullied by some classmates because her smile was abnormal. She killed herself Oct. 19 in her home.
Missouri softball coach Craig Chamberlain said Bethany’s story had an immediate impact on him when he saw it and a photo with her parents online.
“I just started balling, crying,” Chamberlain said.
He said he shared her story with his team members, who were also affected. It was then that the team decided to use their softball season, in which they travel to different tournaments throughout the Midwest, as a way to convey the message “#IAMBETHANY.”
“The girls said, ‘We have to do something about bullying. This should not happen,’” Chamberlain said.
The team will host the forum Saturday night and then take their message on the road. At the tournaments, they will hand out wristbands, T-shirts and pamphlets, all with the message that bullying must be stopped. The team has also ordered customized jersey that say “Stand Up Speak Up” on them and have printed out banners they hope to give out to local businesses willing to hang them at their stores.
Bethany’s mom said the softball team dedicating their season to her daughter is a gesture she will never forget.
“I am grateful that somebody from Missouri who doesn’t know me or my family and didn’t know Bethany until now is so passionate about standing up and saying she has to be the last one,” Feucht said.
Her family will always be thinking about Bethany, she said.
“But to a lot of people around the world who have contacted me, a year from now she is not going to be on their mind every day,” Feucht said. “But with the softball team, she is going to be on their mind every game they play, every inning, every out, every ball that is hit — Bethany’s name is going to be on that field and her memory is going to be with them.”
Costs for the campaign will be paid for by money raised by the team for its 2017 season, Chamberlain said. The team will have to focus on more fundraising to pay for their season, but he believes they will receive help from the community. Some marketing firms have reached out to the team to help the cause.
“This will change my girls’ lives,” Chamberlain said of the new campaign. “This is not going just be a 2017 thing. My girls have made it a mission to save lives.”
The movement has a Facebook page that can be found by searching “Fast Pitch Players Against Bullying.”