MASON, Ohio – Elle Buffenbarger still tears up when reflecting on the support she received last week from friends, teammates, teachers and opposing softball players.
The Mason senior softball standout was at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital a week ago tonight recovering from surgery that removed a large mass on her thyroid.
When her Mason teammates arrived to visit her in the hospital, it brought a smile to the 17-year-old’s face. Her teammates posed for photos around her bed. They made her laugh.
One of them even brought her Chick-fil-A only to learn she couldn’t eat that meal just yet. The teammate ate the food in the room -- much to the laughter of the girls.
“They were being really nice,” Buffenbarger said. “They were telling me they knew I would be back on the field as soon as possible. That they all loved me and supported me and wanted me to feel better as soon as possible.”
Buffenbarger is the emotional leader of a Mason team that was a Division I state semifinalist in 2016. There are high hopes again for this spring when the season starts March 27.
Buffenbarger, a Youngstown State signee, was the Greater Miami Conference player of the year last season. She was second-team all-state.
“We have goals this season," she said. "Not that the team couldn’t do it without me but I want to be a part of the special year we’re going to have this year.”
Buffenbarger will be out of action for two weeks but has resolved to be back on the field for her senior season. She had limited mobility this weekend with her neck and shoulders but has walked around the track. She takes every opportunity to cheer on her teammates in practice.
“We have a strong faith in God,” said Elle’s mother, Jill Buffenbarger. “We’re sure she is going to be back in the circle.”
Elle also knows how fortunate she feels to receive a significant amount of inspiration and encouragement from others.
“I am overwhelmed,” Elle said. “When I talk about it I get a little emotional. I feel like I am always there for my teammates all the time and if they ever need anything they come talk to me and they do. And then the fact that when I needed them they were all there -- that was really nice.”
Mason coach Liann Muff has received plenty of inquiries from other coaches asking about Elle.
“It’s been really heartwarming,” Muff said. “It’s so deserving for Elle not just because she is going through a tough time -- just because she is always that person that does that for everyone else. She always puts everyone in front of herself.”
That was clearly evident this past week the number of text messages, photos and cards Buffenbarger received.
A group of Lebanon softball players visited Buffenbarger at her family’s home on Friday night.
Buffenbarger tweeted her thanks for the support from the Lebanon team, which brought a signed card.
“The kids at Mason and at Lebanon are all very high-character kids,” Lebanon coach Brian Kindell said.
“Obviously when you step in between the lines, they are all very, very competitive. Off the field, they are kids and they care about one another. Nobody wants to see any kid go through what she is going through right now.
“They wanted to do anything they could to brighten her day and her spirits.”
Fairfield coach Brenda Stieger saw Buffenbarger’s tweet late Friday night and got in touch with Muff at 11 p.m.
By 10 a.m. Saturday, Buffenbarger received flowers and a signed card from the Fairfield softball team.
“She shouldn’t have to go through that,” Stieger said. “We just wanted her to know that we’re rivals on the field, but at the same time, we are all on the same team. We’re rooting for her.”
Mason senior catcher Brooke Rice has known Elle since grade school. She knows Elle has a positive outlook on life. Elle is always looking after the team. She is a leader.
Rice also knows what the support from other schools has meant to her friend.
“I just think that’s super cool that we can have rival teams like Lebanon and West’s coach (Keith Castner) texting (coach) Muff and Fairfield sending flowers,” said Rice, an Ohio University signee.
“I think all these teams on the field -- we can act like we dislike each other. They can be serious games and whatnot, but off the field, ultimately, we all doing what we do for the same reason. When I see the (support from the other teams) I just think it’s the sweetest thing.”
Even after recovering at home after the surgery, Buffenbarger was back in school for a while and at practice Friday afternoon offering smoothies to her teammates.
She joined them for a breakfast Saturday morning before watching practice later that afternoon. She will be back in school today and inspiring her teammates in practice.
Other teams will continue to encourage Elle. They can’t wait for her return too.
“We’re all family,” Stieger said. “We’re all striving to do the best on the field. When you break it down, it’s about the interest of the kids. “We’re hoping the best for her and we’re thinking of her.”