When Missy Buttry of little Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, came to the big city Wednesday to be honored as one of the elite female collegiate athletes in the country, she brought along her two coaches.
It’s not that families aren’t welcome. It’s just that, in the case of this Division III cross-country runner, hers would have filled the back of an airplane.
On a day when collegiate women’s athletics took its annual center stage at a news conference at the historic Low Library at Columbia University, Buttry didn’t even win the big trophy. That went to Stanford’s Ogonna Nnamani, star volleyball player for the Cardinal’s NCAA title team, who was awarded the 29th Honda Broderick Cup.
But Buttry’s story, on a day when fascinating story lines were in abundance, had the gathered sports officials and media wide-eyed.
Buttry is the daughter of Don and Pam Buttry of Shenandoah, Iowa, population 5,000. She has a biological brother and sister, plus 11 more brothers and sisters, all adopted.
Of the 11, all adopted after Don, a truck-company mechanic, and Pam had their first three children, five are from Korea, one is from Vietnam, one is from Guatemala, one is from Iowa and three are from Alabama. They range from age 3 to 17.
The adopted child from Iowa is mixed race, black and white. The three girls from Alabama are black, and two are biological sisters.
Two of the Korean children are special-needs children, meaning they have developmental disabilities of one kind or another. Both the Vietnamese child and the Guatemalan child also are special-needs children, as is one of the sisters from Alabama.
All of the children are home-schooled.
Buttry has an older sister, Mandy, her biological sister, who is married and has two children of her own. Recently, she adopted two children.
As the story circulated here, the question of why was answered best by Buttry’s cross-country coach, Steve Johnson, who said of the Don Buttry family, “There’s just lots of love there.”
It was a day when Nnamani, a member of the U.S. Olympic volleyball team in Athens and a likely U.S. star for at least the next two Games, spoke proudly and articulately about how her family came from Nigeria years ago, eventually leading to her chance to get to Stanford.
It was a day when the Division II winner, softball star Krystal Lewallen of Northern Kentucky, was praised for a season that included a 32-1 record that got her team to the Division II World Series.
And it was even a day when the story of the annual Inspiration Award winner, basketball star Brittney Kroon of Seattle Pacific, was incredibly inspirational.
Kroon, from Wassila, Alaska, learned at 16 that she would need a liver transplant or she would die. She was put on a waiting list for a new liver.
On the night she and her team were playing for the state title, she left her pager in her gym bag in the locker room. Her parents were in the crowd with their pager. Neither heard the two pages that came during the game from the University of Washington Medical Center, saying a liver had been found. When they retrieved the pages after the game, there was also a third page, saying that the doctors could wait no longer for a response and had given the liver to the next person on the wait list.
“That was the worst day of my life,” Kroon said, “and we lost the game by three points.”
A week later, another liver match was found, and this season, Kroon led Seattle Pacific to the Division II title game.
But it was hard to top the Buttry Bunch, Don and Pam and their United Nations family.
When Missy Buttry received her Division III award, she said that, “without the love and support of my family,” none of her success would have been possible.
And that success has been nothing short of spectacular.
Buttry has won 14 NCAA-sanctioned events, indoor and outdoor, including six 1,500 meters, three 5,000 meters, three cross-country titles and two distance medley events, where she ran the anchor mile.
“The first time I saw her run, when I was recruiting her,” Johnson said, “I came back and told our track coach, Marcus Newsom, that Missy would run faster than anybody I ever coached. And that was saying something because I’d coached for a while at Oregon State.”
Buttry, who will train for a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic track team, won the Division III NCAA cross-country title in a time that was only 13 seconds slower than the winning time in Division I, but 1.5 seconds better than second place in Division I.
Apparently, a major part of Buttry’s success was heavy fan support. At many meets, despite the fact that Shenandoah is nearly 300 miles from Waverly in opposite corners of Iowa, the whole Buttry clan would show up, wearing bright orange shirts that said, “The Missy Buttry Fan Club.”
Honda executive Richard Colliver, who presided over the awards luncheon, said that he had decided to branch out into another business. He said he was working on getting the Iowa rights to the orange T-shirt concession.
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Ogonna Nnamani, a volleyball player from Stanford, was named the winner of the Honda-Broderick Cup as collegiate woman athlete of the year. The other four finalists and Division athletes of the year:
* Seimone Augustus, Louisiana State, basketball
* Kirsty Coventry, Auburn, swimming
* Monique Henderson, UCLA, track and field
* Cat Osterman, Texas, softball
* Division II -- Krystal Lewallen, Northern Kentucky, softball
* Division III -- Missy Buttry, Wartburg, cross-country