COLUMBIA — After a home win in softball over Lebanon, Mo., Rock Bridge players Whitney and Madison Wipfler stand in the middle of the infield, arm-in-arm. As their teammates crowd around them, clapping, the announcer reads a few facts about Whitney, her hobbies as well as her future plans.
As always, the sisters stand together. Tears stream down both of their cheeks.
Senior Night was emotional for the Wipfler family. Whitney, two years older than her sister, had hit a home run earlier in the game, one of her last as a Bruin. As her teammates and fans honored her accomplishments in a small ceremony after the game, she came to the realization that her high school experience was almost over. Everything was about to change.
“Having my sister and my family there, it was kind of like the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one,” Whitney said. “I kind of lost it.”
After all the time the sisters have spent together, that reaction comes as no surprise. Growing up, Whitney and Madison were a constant part of each other's lives. They ate together. They hung out together. And of course, they played sports together.
“Whatever Whitney did, I kind of followed,” Madison said. “I always looked up to her and thought it was so cool because she did it.”
It could be miniature golf or swimming, tennis or basketball, softball or track. Regardless of the sport, Whitney and Madison played together.
And regardless of the sport, Madison wanted to beat Whitney. She couldn’t stand losing, especially not to her big sister.
“We always kind of took it to each other. We always wanted to win, but it really didn’t matter at the end of the day,” Madison said.
She laughed quietly, before correcting herself.
“Well, I should say I always wanted to win, and she just kind of let me.”
Whitney learned at an early age that, at least in sports, it was better just to let Madison have her way.
“It’s not that I’m not competitive and I don’t want to win, but my sister always has to one-up,” Whitney said, rolling her eyes. The exasperation in her tone is evident. “It could mean nothing, and if she lost, she would still be mad about it. She’s a very sore loser.”
Still, the sisters found a way to get along. And even now, you rarely find one without the other.
Whitney drives Madison to school every day. They walk through the halls of Rock Bridge, stopping to greet and talk with mutual friends.
After school, they practice together. On the field, they are constantly pushing each other, knowing that the other is watching. If Madison needs someone to get her going, Whitney is there to whisper a few words of encouragement. When Whitney hits a home run, Madison is the first to give her a high five.
After practice, Whitney drives Madison home. And once back in their own house, they do homework or hang out with friends — more than likely together.
If you run into one of them, you run into both of them.
The one time, seemingly, that the Wipflers are apart is when they are playing separate sports. Madison runs track, and Whitney plays basketball. But even then, they aren’t too far away.
“They don’t like to be playing on different teams at the same time because they always like to go to each other’s games,” Holly Wipfler, Whitney and Madison’s mother, said. “They go to every game, every sport.”
When Whitney is playing, she knows if Madison is there.
“She’s one person that I can always hear in the crowd,” Whitney said. “I don’t hear everyone, but I hear her.”
As Whitney’s senior year winds down, the Wipflers are looking towards the future. Whitney is visiting different colleges, getting ready to leave the house — and her sister.
Because of Madison, however, Whitney can’t imagine going far.
“She is what’s keeping me close,” Whitney said. “She’s my best friend. She’s everything.” She pauses, her voice quivering. “It’s going to be really hard to leave her.”
Next year, for the first time in their lives, the Wipfler sisters will be separate and independent. There will be Madison, and there will be Whitney.
When Madison looks down the bench during Rock Bridge softball games, Whitney won’t be there. When Whitney is studying in her dorm room, Madison won’t be there.
It isn’t an easy idea to get used to.
“I’ve heard Madison recently say that she doesn’t know what she’s going to do when Whitney is gone,” Holly Wipfler said. “She relies on her for support. They do a lot of things together. They play sports together. They go to church together. The thought of Whitney leaving town has been a struggle for Madison.”
On Senior Night, as the Wipflers stood side by side, tears were inevitable. The game symbolized the end of an era. Life is going to be a lot different this time next year, and Madison knows it.
“It’s going to be tough. Like I said, she’s my best friend,” Madison said. “I’m going to miss her a whole bunch, but … we’ll make it.”
The youngest Wipfler glanced down, shaking her head. After a short pause, she looked back up, cleared her throat, and smiled.
“I’ll fight through it.”