It all seemed so innocent and routine.
Since starting tee-ball when she was 5, Denise Buxton has played countless softball games en route to her senior season at Hickman.
The Kewpies start play today in the single-elimination Class 4 District 10 tournament at Ber-Juan Sports Complex in Rolla.
A July tournament in Kansas City was supposed to be business as usual for Buxton. Unfortunately, she scored a run that almost ended her chance for a fourth straight letter at Hickman. Although Buxton scored standing up, the catcher remained directly in front of home plate. Buxton maneuvered her leg around the catcher and stepped at an awkward angle.
“I felt a pop,” she said. “Then I rolled over and I got up, but I just fell back down. My knee just gave out. That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Buxton was determined to avoid immediate surgery if possible. Her doctor, Mark Adams, said softball isn’t a particularly hazardous sport for ACL tears and that she could probably make it through the season without surgery. He also made Buxton and her parents aware of the possibility that she could tear another ligament or cause permanent damage. At that point, playing without surgery wouldn’t be an option.
Buxton’s decision to delay surgery was an easy one for her, but her mother, Kim Buxton, had her doubts.
“I fought her on that for a while,” Kim Buxton said. “It’s not going to matter in 10 years whether she played softball or not.”
So far, the decision has paid off. Buxton started in Hickman’s opening game against Warrensburg on Aug. 25, and she hasn’t missed a game.
Her father, Jim Buxton, said he gives credit to Adams and a “$1,000 knee brace” for keeping his daughter relatively healthy.
“She’s only went down once, and that was (Sept. 27) at the Kewpie Classic,” Jim Buxton said. “She stumbled out of the batter’s box and her knee gave out, but she got back up, walked it off and kept playing.
“I’m rather proud of her, she’s been hanging in there. Being in right field and running around out there, she’s doing real good.”
Buxton’s teammates also have noticed her resiliency. Fellow senior Jessica Perry said she admires Buxton’s pain threshold.
“Some people would say, ‘Oh, my knee’s swollen and I don’t want to be here,’ ” Perry said. “But she says, ‘My knee’s swollen. Don’t tell coach.’ ”
Buxton will continue displaying her moxie until the spring. She is putting off surgery until March or April so she can cheerlead for the Hickman basketball teams. Adams told Buxton he expects her to make a full recovery after her knee’s reconstruction.
She said the pain comes and goes, and throwing causes her the most frequent discomfort. Despite the pain, she plays with the same reckless abandon she did before the injury. On Sept. 23 against Jefferson City, Buxton made a diving catch in right field that Jim Buxton called one of the best his daughter has made.
“I just try to do anything I can to win the game,” Buxton said. “Certain things hurt it, but I just have to suck it up and play. (My teammates) don’t give me any special treatment, and I don’t really want any.
“I’m just another person on the team.”