By Christian Stark
Rylee Abbuhl, a 10-year-old girl from Canton, Ohio, has been diagnosed with a terminal illness that causes her central nervous system to fail — a process that has already begun. One of Rylee’s biggest dreams is to play college softball. When Adrianna McKelley, freshman pitcher at Malone, heard about Abbuhl’s wish, she knew she had to act.
McKelley heard about Abbuhl through McKelley’s neighbor, who is on Abbuhl’s travel softball team. This neighbor suggested that the Malone softball team might try to make it possible for Abbuhl to throw the first pitch at a Malone softball game, but when McKelley brought the idea to Coach Kathryn Bzdafka, the two committed to doing much more.
Within a week, Malone’s and Walsh’s softball teams came together to host an event where Abbuhl could fulfill her dream of playing college softball. Walsh’s coach and softball team secured a donation of normally-pricey time to utilize the Hall of Fame Fitness Center, as well as t-shirts donations from Dumonts Sporting Goods.
Abbuhl played other roles during the event in addition to throwing the first pitch of the game.
“[When] we got to the game, [Rylee] went to the coaches’ meeting,” Lauren Bennett, sophomore infielder, said. “She relayed the information as if she were a coach [and] she threw out the first pitch of the game, and then pitched to the first batter and struck the first batter out.”
To ensure the day was extra special, the event incorporated even more ways for Abbuhl to live out her dreams.
“Originally [Rylee] knew that she would be part of the scrimmage and being able to throw the first pitch, but what she didn’t know was that the whole day was planned around her picking a school, so she didn’t know she’d be recruited,” Lexi Betz, sophomore infielder, said. “Then we did the recruitment, played the game, and then after she didn’t know that she would actually be signing like a national letter of intent.”
The Malone softball team organized additional surprises for Abbuhl beyond the event itself as well.
“We asked a bunch of schools from all around the United States to send in videos of encouragement to Rylee, just to let her know there’s other people who have her back and that they’re there supporting her and praying for her,” McKelley said. “It’s over 40 minutes of video of all these different colleges letting Rylee know how much they are inspired by her bravery and how amazing they think she is.”
Bennett and Betz described the wide, tight-knit softball community across the nation they discovered through participating in lots of travel and high school softball teams before college. The entire Malone team asked for and received videos and gifts from teams all across the country — from Ohio State University to University of California, Los Angeles, and even some Olympians.
Abbuhl’s favorite team, University of Notre Dame, sent in a longer clip walking her through a day in the life of a softball player at their institution.
“I think that it was just so cool for this whole experience to be about Rylee and just to come together for this 10-year-old girl who loves softball,” Bennett said. “We were all 10-year-old girls at one point. We always had dreams of being a college softball player, and now that we’re here, we get to look back on ourselves as a little kid and get to help [another] girl live out her dream.”
“We go to practice and we go to games, and it just becomes so mundane and repetitive,” Betz said. “We forget we are literally living [the] dreams of [a] 10-year-old girl who won’t get to even see if she can do what we do.”
Bennett described how special it is that Abbuhl and her situation provided the softball players with the perfect opportunity to live out Malone’s mission: Christ’s Kingdom first. Larger schools often have more of an opportunity for this sort of service, so Bennett explains she is thankful that this opportunity for service came to Malone.
“The fact that it fell in Malone’s and Walsh’s hands, it’s something from God,” Bennett said. “Walsh did it with us and it was such a cool experience.”
In this event to honor Rylee, Malone and Walsh put aside their rivalry and came together to support Abbuhl and her dream. Bennett wasn’t nervous about the game or the score, as she recognized that the teams just wanted to make the day special for Rylee.
“Malone’s slogan is Christ’s Kingdom first, and I feel like this whole situation really embodies that,” McKelley said. “The fact that we were all able to come together for this little girl to make her dream happen because she deserves the world and so she’s so amazing and so brave was just awesome.”