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Growing Awareness: #BeardsForDanni


Stony Brook University student-athletes recently went to bat for one of their own.

Danni in uniform, spring 2016.

When Stony Brook softball player Danielle (“Danni”) Kemp learned that she had an inoperable brain tumor and needed treatments, her male diamond counterparts put on their rally caps in solidarity, creating the initiative #BeardsForDanni.

Danni, who played second base for the Seawolves in 2015-2016, was hit in the helmet by a pitch this past summer. Soon after she experienced balance problems, trouble focusing and dizziness. Doctors discovered she didn’t have a concussion, but a brain tumor.

Stony Brook University Associate Baseball Coach Pennucci learned the news about Danni while surfing Twitter and had no trouble convincing just about anyone who could grow a beard — and a handful of good sports who couldn’t — to go for the hirsute look.

Pitcher Aaron Pinto, a junior sociology major, said, “Danni has been a close friend for me at school. She would come over and hang out and we would talk about everything. She is always happy, loves to make people laugh and acts like a big kid.”

Pinto’s mound companion, junior business management major Cole Creighton said, “It’s important to me to let her know we’re thinking about her and hopefully giving her something to smile about.”

Danni’s tough news coincided with another fall classic, No-Shave November, the time of the year when men are encouraged to grow their facial hair to make a statement for men’s health awareness.

From the baby-faced who struggle with peach fuzz to the lumberjack types who exhibit five-o’clock shadow the same morning they shave, many members of the baseball team decided to play hardball by saying no to the razor blade as long as they could stand the itch.

“I thought for us it should be about more than making a donation and when I thought about what our team could do, I realized we could raise Danni’s spirits by looking like a bunch of mountain men,” Pennucci said.

Most of the members of the team began growing their beards in mid-October; a handful still sport one.

“Some guys tried and failed and tried again and failed a second time,” said Pennucci.

One of those beardless wonders whose stubble gave him trouble was Bret Clark. Ironically, his brother, Cody, grew the lushest beard on the team.

Bearded, from left to right: Cole Creighton, Casey Baker, Sean Buckhout, Joey Spears

Junior business/marketing major Bobby Honeyman, who plays third base, was so follicularly challenged that when the team picture was snapped, the coach hid him in the shadows to save his dignity. And yet he vowed to try again if another friend ever goes through a similar ordeal.

“This puts an 0-4 day at the plate into its proper perspective,” said Pennucci. “It makes you just appreciate the opportunity to be part of a great baseball program at an incredible university and at the same time reminds us to be tough and supportive of a classmate, fellow student-athlete and friend.”

Head softball coach Megan Bryant said, “#BeardsForDanni has touched Danni, her family, our team and our entire athletics department, which is a family and our student-athletes are very supportive of each other. The baseball and softball teams and staffs have always shared a special bond. We work so closely every day,” she said.

Bryant characterized Danni as a great teammate and talented student-athlete.

Danni Night, October 25 at Stony Brook University.

On Danni’s behalf, the softball team has contributed to her family’s GoFundMe effort, coordinated a departmental exchange of DanniStrong bracelets and T-shirts, visited Danni and her family at their home, participated in a fundraising softball clinic, and will soon be producing a video of support.

“Most important,” said Bryant, “our team is dedicating our 2016-2017 year to Danni, honoring her in everything we do on and off the field. Our motto is ‘Purpose Driven Season’. She will be with us every time we take the field, lift a weight or run.”

Danni had her radiation therapy at Yale-New Haven Hospital before traveling to Germany, where she received treatment unavailable in the United States. She and her parents just completed a second trip to Germany and will continue treatment there as needed.

So far, the GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $120,000 with a current goal of $150,000.

Danni was touched by her baseball brethren’s show of solidarity and light-hearted antics. “I feel grateful and honored they did #BeardsForDanni to support me. I’m thankful for all of the great people in my life to help me feel not alone through this battle. Seawolves forever!”

— Glenn Jochum

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