The Stony Brook University community is mourning the loss of former softball player Danni Kemp.
Kemp, 19, died Friday after battling brain cancer. The Seawolves, who had dedicated their softball season to her, postponed Friday’s games against Santa Clara and New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The team resumed play on Saturday, breaking a huddle with “DK23,” according to a Twitter post.
“She was a great person to be around,” said Kim Ragazzo, one of Kemp’s former teammates. “She always shined a light. She always gave you happiness. Just her smile, her laugh. I can still hear her laugh right now, and I feel like you could enjoy doing anything with her.”
In July, Kemp was hit in the head by a pitch while playing in a summer league game. When she began feeling dizzy and had trouble keeping her balance, doctors tested her for a concussion. An MRI revealed a cancerous brain tumor, Bradley Taylor, her uncle, told Newsday in September.
Diane Caruso, Kemp’s roommate during many road trips, said there was never a dull moment with Danni, whether the two were blasting music, talking softball, or lying around watching presidential debates with mud masks on their faces. They even took a spontaneous trip to Lowell, Massachusetts, last May to watch the Stony Brook baseball team play Binghamton for the America East championship.
“She just looked out for everyone and she was just so much fun to be around,” Caruso said. “She was always a positive soul, she really was.”
Melissa Phelan vividly remembers a scene from a game last season with Kemp batting and her mother, Melinda, showing about as much support as she could from the stands.
“The way her mom would cheer for her — obviously, it’s your mom, she’s going to cheer hard — but she was really pulling for Danni,” Phelan said. “It got me kind of emotional because I lost my mom to cancer when I was 19, and because of how much love her mom had for her, how much she wanted her to succeed. That was the same type of person Danni was.”
But it wasn’t only those on the softball team whom Kemp strongly affected. After news of Kemp’s death spread around campus, many student-athletes took to social media.
Tiffany Zullo, a midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team from Connetquot High School, tweeted “We all play for Danni and will forever be Danni Strong. Rest in peace to a beautiful soul.”
Baseball pitcher Kevin Kernan posted, “We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”
Men’s lacrosse coach Jim Nagle called Kemp an “inspiration to everyone in the department” and attack Ryan Bitzer said on Friday, “Just so much strength she’s been showing, continuing to fight and never giving up, I think that’s a reflection on all of our programs at Stony Brook.”
Even before the season began, the softball team was using Kemp as motivation.
“Danni’s very strong,” junior infielder Chelsea Evans said in February. “And playing with her for one season, just knowing that she loved the game and playing for the love of the game and not for anything else, that definitely motivates us to play like Danni.”
The fight Kemp showed in the months after her diagnosis continues to impact those she touched.
“Everyone knows it,” Ragazzo said. “They all say it on social media about how she was such a fighter, and I just think the point is that until the very end, she kept that smile and she kept that laugh. I think that’s very important and comforting to me that she didn’t lose who she was, because she was such a great person.”