A single Virginia Tech ballcap sat atop the second base bag on Broad Run High School’s softball field, while a bed of roses, candles and other homespun tributes to Madison Small obscured the nearby clumps of infield dirt.
More than 200 friends, family members and classmates showed up for a hastily-planned Tuesday evening memorial for Small, 18, a Broad Run senior and member of the varsity softball team who died unexpectedly Tuesday morning. The cause of her death is still unknown.
“The [post-mortem] examination is not yet complete, so no information is available at this time,” said Nancy Bull, District Administrator for the Virginia Northern District Medical Examiner’s Office. There is no timetable for an autopsy to completed, Bull said, and even when it’s done, results could be withheld as “pending.”
According to Madison’s close friend, Devan Rook, she first became ill Monday afternoon.
“She went to urgent care in the afternoon, and they sent her home — didn’t think anything was wrong with her,” said Rook, 18, a fellow Broad Run senior who was classmates with Small every year since preschool. “In the middle of the night, she woke up complaining of headaches and stuff, and they took her to [Inova] Loudoun Hospital and realized it was pretty serious. They couldn’t handle it there, so they medevac-ed her over to [Inova Fairfax Hospital]. At that point, she wasn’t doing too well, and several of her organs were shutting down.”
An e-mail message sent to parents Tuesday from school Principal Dave Spage reads, in part, “I am writing to inform you one of our students, Madison Small, became fatally ill this morning. We have been informing students and staff and offering our support to them, as well as her family, and our community. Crisis intervention counselors are in place at the school, and will remain as long as needed.”
As darkness fell in Ashburn Tuesday, supporters held candles mounted on pink plates as Small’s close friends, her softball coach, Ed Steele, and her father, Tim Small, spoke.
Steele related how Small drove in the winning run in the Spartans’ most recent state tournament win three years ago, and how her perseverance in the face of nagging injuries led her to have a rib removed prior to her junior season so she could continuing playing. She had a certain “air” about her, the coach added.
“The person I’m going to miss isn’t the person with all the hits and so forth,” Steele said. “It’s the person who made every practice fun and helped everybody, even the lowliest freshman who looked up to her.”
Madison, the youngest of Tim and Rachel Small’s three children, led a full life outside the diamond. Of her circle of about a half-dozen close friends at Broad Run, Small was the only one who played softball. One day during her freshman year, Small’s parents let slip that her childhood nickname was “Princess Attitude-y,” and the moniker caught on among friends and teachers alike down Broad Run’s hallways.
“She always had that sass back at us, and we’ll miss it more than anything I think,” said Caroline Kerns, 18.
Small was bound for Virginia Tech in the fall, and several speakers noted the fondness with which she looked ahead to her upcoming college days. In less than 24 hours, promise and potential yielded to remembrance and eulogy. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s vigil, Small’s softball teammates released 24 pink balloons into the blackness — the same No. 24 on the back of a Spartans jersey she wore as recently as March 28.
“Life can be short, we found that out today,” Tim Small said, speaking to those gathered. “Make the most of it: love each other. Don’t get bogged down in the little nitpicky crap. Put that aside. Life’s too short.”