WEST BRANCH, Mich. - A mid-Michigan community cheered on a 16-year-old sophomore — the victim of an apparent prank by classmates — as she took her place with other members of her high school's homecoming court.
Whitney Kropp was escorted by her father and grandfather onto the Ogemaw Heights High School football field Friday night in West Branch, about 140 miles northwest of Detroit.
Kropp was named to the homecoming court of the 800-student school earlier this month, but said she felt betrayed after some students suggested her selection was a joke. She said she had been picked on in the past, but it intensified afterward.
Her story has sparked national interest and on Friday, residents and business owners in the West Branch area turned out to the game to show their support and help take a stand against bullying.
Orange T-shirts — Kropp's favorite color — have been sold with the slogan "It's not cool to be cruel."
"It's just so much right now for me," Kropp said Friday night. "I had thoughts about not coming but I actually changed my mind and came out. I just thought maybe I won't have fun. But I'm having a lot of fun right now."
Her gown, jewelry, shoes, hair styling and makeup were donated.
"The kids that are bullying, do not let them bring you down," Kropp told reporters. "Stand up for what you believe in, and go with your heart and go with your gut. That's what I did, and look at me now. I'm just as happy as can be."
Many in the stands, even students from visiting Cadillac, wore orange.
"It wasn't right what they did to her," said Alexis Dahlstrom, a 16-year-old Cadillac junior. "We wanted her to know that there are people out there who support her."
Dahlstrom and her friends learned about Kropp's story on Facebook.
"Whitney is strong. I don't know that I would have had the courage to go," 15-year-old Ogemaw Heights sophomore Heather Oyster said.
Ogemaw Heights won the homecoming game, 24-21 over Cadillac.