By Cleveland Dietz
A recreational whiffle ball league based on the Southside of Indianapolis raised more than $2,500 to support pediatric brain cancer research on Aug. 11.
The fifth annual Wifflin’ for Whitley All-Star Game opened with a home run derby and closed with a nine-inning game featuring players from almost every team in the league.
A concurrent raffle and auction contributed most of the funds raised for Whitley’s Wishes and diffuse intrinsic pontine giloma research.
“Basically, (DIPG) is a tumor on the brain stem and it starts to tear down their motor skills and their ability to see and breathe and everything,” Indy Southside Wiffle Ball commissioner Brendan Dudas said. “It just renders them completely useless, so it’s a pretty horrific disease.”
DIPG accounts for 10 to 20 percent of brain tumors in children, according to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. There is no cure. A post on the hospital’s website about the aggressive cancer said radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the primary weapons hospitals use against it, but survival rates remain low.
Doctors diagnosed Whitley, who was Dudas’s niece and lived in Edwardsville, Illinois, with the cancer in 2014.
“The league had just started up that year and, immediately, I had the idea to start raising money for her fund through that,” Dudas said. “The goal was a little different then. It was to support her and her efforts for treatment and find a cure for that.”
About a year later, she died at 13 years old.
“She was full of joy,” he said. “She was always smiling. She was one of the family members that came around and was excited and made everybody feel loved and accepted.”
Whitley liked to play sports, dance, draw and sing, Dudas said, so the Edwardsville, Illinois-based nonprofit Whitley’s Wishes began by using funds raised to support those things in her honor. It has since shifted its focus more toward funding DIPG research.
Money raised by the Wifflin’ for Whitley event goes to Whitley’s Wishes.
“What we’re doing is attempting to raise money for this disease in order to increase the research efforts, increase its funding,” Dudas said.
Wifflin’ for Whitley has raised a total of $7,000 in support of Whitley’s Wishes and DIPG research since the event started in 2015. This year’s $2,500 haul was more than double that of the previous year.
Twenty to 25 people participated in the home run derby, which was open to anyone who had $5 and a desire to crack a yellow plastic bat. Mike Speek Sr., pitcher for the league’s Indy 8 Balls, won the contest.
Speek Sr. and Cody House captained the all-star teams, selecting their teammates from a field of 19 players.
“The only team that didn’t have a representative was the Yakkers. They actually have one of the best players in the league but none of them were available for the event,” Dudas said.
An estimated 120 people crowded around the base lines and behind the fences to watch the game on the field at 1117 W. Epler Ave., many of them buying raffle tickets and bidding on auction items, such as a football signed by Andrew Luck, Sun King Brewery tours and escape room passes.
“Back in 2014, we had all of 12 people show up to that backyard, so I think we raised a couple of hundred dollars. To see where it’s grown now is really incredible and fulfilling,” Dudas said.