Kavanaugh: ‘Intent was never to keep 18s’

18 FOR 18: The 18 in the setter’s spot, a constant reminder to players of the movement following Beth Dunlap’s passing.

Photo courtesy of Emma Barton

’18 FOR 18′: The 18 in the setter’s spot, a constant reminder to players of the movement following Beth Dunlap’s passing.

Julia Hanson, Editor-in-Chief

A few feet away from each other are two small 18s painted in the middle of the Purple Gym floor– something students may not have ever noticed. They’re a subtle, but meaningful representation of both the mark Beth Dunlap left on her community and the start of the nationwide ‘18 For 18’ movement following her death Feb. 22, 2019. Beth was struck by a car walking into school Feb. 20, 2019. Nearly four years later, the 18s have become a visual reminder with sentimental value for DGN volleyball teams. However, in the plan to redo the gym floors this summer, the 18s will not be replaced.

In 2019, amidst grief and heartache, Athletic Director Denise Kavanaugh chose the small memorial with positive intention, not expecting to upset students, players, coaches, parents and alumni years later.

“I’m the person responsible for the 18s on the floor,” Kavanaugh said in an emotional interview with the Omega. “Kids would ask if we could retire Beth’s jersey which our district doesn’t allow for anyone. I thought an 18 sticker in the setter’s spots would be a good idea, but wanted it to be dignified and asked if it could be painted. The next time we would redo the floors, we would not redo the 18s. There’s a system of when the floors get repainted so I knew it would only be a year or two.”

Beth had a large group of friends and was well-known in the volleyball community. Her passing warranted memorials beyond the small, painted 18s. 

“We took it upon ourselves to memorialize her any chance we got,” 2020 alumni Aleks Glowik said, a close friend of Beth’s. “We wanted to make sure she was never forgotten.”

It’s hard because everyone that played with Beth has graduated, and now we’re just forgetting about her?

— Emma Barton

On Oct. 15, 2019, students filled the stands for Beth’s Bright Light Game. In the dark gym holding small lights given to them at the door, students and spectators turned on their lights when their connection to Beth was announced. 

“We had the event, people appreciated the 18s, it was all appropriate for that time. It was wonderful. Then COVID-19 hit. No one was worried about redoing the floors,’ Kavanaugh said. 

The painted 18s and their significance stayed for seasons to follow. 

“The 18s can mean something different for each person. It becomes a reminder that life is precious,” assistant volleyball coach Meghan Nauss said through tears. “Cherish the moments. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy each other. Appreciate the struggles.”

NEVER FORGETTING: “For picture day, the seniors all take a picture together. Beth wasn’t a part of that picture so they took their picture around the 18 because they missed her,” Nauss said. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Nauss)

Then, the unimaginable happened. Senior Mason Walters passed away Sept. 28, 2021. Again, students lost a friend, teachers lost a student, and volleyball coaches lost a player. 

“So now, everyone’s like ‘Where’s Mason’s number?’” Kavanugh said. “But nobody understood that the intent was never to keep the 18s. Now we’ve had multiple deaths and administrators have to have conversations about what’s appropriate. It’s an area I’m not familiar with. I feel bad for everyone who wants a number two [on the gym floor to represent Mason], but understand that it was not about Beth’s number, it was about the concept.”

Fast-forward to 2022.

“We’re here for Beth, we’re here for Mason,” senior Emma Barton told her team in a huddle before what was supposed to be the annual Beth Dunlap Memorial game. The girls’ varsity volleyball team knows Barton to be a happy player who consistently contributes her comedic relief and brutal honesty. But before the start of this particular game, she had tears streaming down her face.

“I love seeing that number,” Barton said. She paused. “Because I know that Beth was remembered for being a lighthearted player. She was dedicated to the sport but she was also a fun, bubbly person. I try to be like that. It’s hard because everyone that played with Beth has graduated, and now we’re just forgetting about her?”

Principal Courtney DeMent was a month and a half into her first year at DGN when Mason passed away. She had no idea the 18s were on the gym floor and was initially unprepared for what was to follow. 

“When Mason died, it highlighted the fact that we still had the 18s on there. It sparked a discussion about how we are memorializing students that have passed away,” DeMent said. “We don’t do these kinds of things because we can’t replicate it for every student.”

District 99 follows a School Crisis Intervention Training Curriculum for memorials which advises that they are “optional” for students to see, not permanent and can be kept consistent for other student memorials to follow. However, there is a Beth Dunlap memorial outside the Purple Gym entrance. Lining the walkway are 18 benches and 18 lights, all outside door 18. This was a decision made during the renovations when Janice Schwarze was principal. 

There are protocols in place, and we had several conversations as a district about what was best,” Schwarze said in an email interview with the Omega Dec. 4. “Ultimately, we decided that Beth’s case was unique in that her death basically happened on school grounds during a school day when students and staff were present. In addition, the memorial was paid for by an anonymous donor, not the school district. That fact by itself, however, would not have been enough to override protocol.”

Over the past two years, DGN has lost four students: Mason Walters, Daniel Figueroa, Gwen Casten and Caden McCann. For administration, the unfortunate reality has now become that a school can’t hold events and permanently memorialize every student equally that passes away. 

“No one did anything wrong. Everyone shares with me that [Beth’s passing] was unique, and I fully believe that it was,” DeMent said. “It unfortunately gives us an opportunity to reevaluate the things we do and to be more consistent.”

It has been almost four years since Beth’s passing and her impact still weighs heavily on the volleyball program, making this planned change saddening. 

“It felt like a piece of our character and who the program is would no longer be there,” Nauss said. 

After hearing the news that the painted 18s would not be replaced, Barton went to her teammates and coaches to formulate a petition which she plans to publish soon. 

“We weren’t quite sure what to say, especially because the whole issue started with parents being upset about Mason not being honored the same way Beth was. I get it, but if the issue is inequality, why can’t we just do both numbers?” Barton said. 

It’s important to the current and past volleyball teams to explore other options to keep honoring Beth. Barton’s older brother, John, played volleyball at DGN and was close friends with Beth. 

“He’s upset. I asked Mrs. Kavanaugh if she could somehow take them out of the floor and we can frame them or I’ll give them to my brother and his friends,” Barton said. “They matter to people.”

However, the 18s are painted on and can’t be removed in one piece. 

“We can’t cut the floor out but I would be happy to take photos and do something as a memory with that,” Kavanaugh said. “The paint will not go back on.”

Beth’s memory lives on throughout the program beyond the 18s. Before every game, the girls’ varsity volleyball team does their traditional chant. Head Coach Mark Wasik leads by saying, “We are.” The team responds: “Beth Strong.” 

“She deserves to be remembered forever,” Glowik said. 

Beth Dunlap’s success in volleyball led the team to the State match in 2018. And yet, in each tearful interview conducted, her character was the focus above all else.

“She was always laughing ridiculously loud,” Glowik said. “She loved getting tea and coffee every time at Starbucks. She would add a million things to her shopping cart online and impulsively buy it a few days later. She was insanely charismatic.”

For Kavanaugh, this has been an upsetting learning experience. 

“If it were me in my own world, I would say ‘Who cares if there are numbers all over the floor?’” Kavanagh said. “But I can’t do that in a public school. It’s been a sad learning experience. No death is insignificant.”

Rest in peace: Beth Dunlap, Mason Walters, Daniel Figueroa, Gwen Casten and Caden McCann