GREENCASTLE -- They say in the face of tragedy a person's true character comes shining through. For South Putnam senior Kendra Latham and her classmates, their character has been tested intensely in 2010.
The South Putnam community has dealt with the loss of two young lives as the school year finished, but for Latham that was the start of a journey that is still going strong.
Haley Bain, who passed away on May 29, was a teammate of Latham's on the South Putnam tennis team and her passing hit the senior hard. But instead of giving into grief and being overcome with sorrow, Latham stepped up to the plate and decided to make a difference.
When she learned of the Haley Bain Memorial Scholarship, Latham found the perfect way to make that difference. The love of tennis helped bind them together and now it's tennis that will help keep Bain's memory alive.
Latham, with the help of her mother Rita, set about organizing the Haley Bain Memorial Tennis Tournament set to happen this weekend, and it's taken both of them on a journey much larger than they anticipated.
"Well, Haley was a very good friend of mine and we really got that way during sports," Kendra said. "We didn't really talk much when we were at school or anything, but once she passed, it really hit me how much of an impact she had in my life, at least in the athletic aspect of it, and when she died it hit me 'I have to do something. There's something that needs to be done.'
"I learned about the scholarship and I was like 'Well, since she was big into tennis and I'm big into tennis, it would be easy for me to put together a tournament' and that's how it formed. Now it's snowballed into this big thing, so we're rolling with it right now," she added.
"Her comment the day of the funeral, she said 'I have to do something to honor her.' She stood in the living room and said 'I have to do something,' she was an inspiration to everyone. And her smile and her spirit and she said we have to do something," Rita said.
When asked if the endeavor has become larger than expected, Kendra just smiled and acknowledged that was indeed the case.
"Oh yeah, way bigger than what I anticipated," she said.
According to the Lathams, the response has been extremely positive. They said most everyone wanted to be involved in some way with the scholarship and were just looking for a way to help.
"They (the community) knew the family in some way, shape or form and what we have learned is that many people had the intention of sending in things or wanted to do something, they just didn't know what to do. This has given them an avenue and a direction, a way to help and a way to impact and make a difference," Rita said.
Some might think a tennis tournament in a small town in central Indiana wouldn't generate any interest beyond its borders, but that's not the case. The tournament has received items from national sponsors such as Penn, K-Swiss and Head and is waiting to hear from a few more. Plus, the local sponsor interest would almost border on overwhelming.
"Huge prizes pretty much. Things that tennis players want -- obviously a tennis racket and it's a good quality tennis racket. It's just awesome to get all these things in that you weren't even asking for," Kendra said beaming.
"We didn't imagine that everyone would respond. We haven't approached anyone who has told us no. Everyone we've approached has done something, some much larger than others, but everyone has participated," Rita added. "For a young person, she impacted a lot of people. And their family is a Putnam County family that's been around forever."
While dealing with their loss, Kendra and her mother have turned to each other and spent a summer that's been filled with loss, gratitude and purpose. Though the tournament was Kendra's brainchild, Rita has been there every step of the way.
"The Indianapolis Racket Club contacted us, and they're going to send us a racket to raffle off. It's been a blessing. I've enjoyed putting it together -- it's unfortunate that we had to under the circumstances, but we've enjoyed it. We've worked together a lot this summer.
"I think she's learned a lot," Rita continued. "That a little idea of 'Well I guess we could do a tennis tournament' is not just as easy as I guess we can do a tennis tournament. It's turned into quite the adventure."
The entire endeavor has been mostly a word of mouth, grassroots campaign to get people involved. There have been no enormous billboards, just concerned individuals wanting to come together for a cause they all believe in.
Kendra has played many summers in tournament in the Terre Haute area and her connections in Terre Haute have paid off as well. The Terre Haute Junior Tennis Association has the tournament listed on its website and its director knows Kendra well.
"The tennis coach at Rose Hulman is actually the head of that, and I've done a lot of tennis tournaments up in Terre Haute. I actually did on the beginning of the summer," Kendra said. "He's obviously taking (it on), which is awesome. He said he's handed out around 100 forms to his players, and I gave a couple to the Greencastle coach and she's copying them. It's just everyone passing it around
"E-mail has been a huge thing. If you e-mail and e-mail and e-mail, you tell them to print off as many as they want and give them to their friends. It's really word of mouth," she added.
So far, the message has been far reaching. The tournament has entrants from Clay County, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne and Tennessee, as well as local players.
And according to Kendra, this won't be a one-shot deal. She said she's in it for the long haul, even if it goes beyond its original intended organization.
When asked if she envisioned it becoming an annual event, she said she believes it will be. But as with everything, it has to grow and if this year's tournament is any indication, that won't be a problem.
"I hope so," Kendra said. "I'm hoping that this is going to -- if we have a smaller start this year and then it just grows and grows and grows. We've been told the scholarship might not be forever; it might end the year she was going to graduate. We're hoping we can still carry on the tournament if we get a good enough turnout and we could put it towards something else.
"As of now, until the Haley Bain Scholarship, it's going to go directly toward that. But, like I said, if not, we'll find another organization to put it into. Even after I graduate, I'm hoping I can still carry it on," she added.
With the tournament set to start tomorrow, Kendra said she expects it to be a little hectic with late entrants, but her mother believes everything will result in a fun couple of days.
"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "By the time we do the bracket draws -- the trophies are ordered, the awards are orders, the T-shirts are designed, the tennis balls are in and the sponsors are lined up. For me, that's going to be a day of fun. To sign people in and talk to everyone."
No matter how many entrants the tournament receives, they have it covered. In addition to the six courts as South Putnam, the tournament has the courts at Greencastle High School as well as the indoor courts at DePauw University to accommodate.
"Everyone has been so generous and so accommodating: 'Sure anything I can do to help. What do you need?'" Rita said. "I think we're going to have a lot of fun and that's my goal. Good tennis, fun and fair competition and a good time. I want everyone to come and have a good time.
"I want everyone to come with the spirit of this is a fundraiser for a good cause and we want to make the best of it and I hope that's the attitude people bring," she added.
When you listen to the passion with which Kendra speaks of the event, it's easy to forget the fact that she's entering her senior year at South Putnam. Her eyes are filled with passion and purpose and her will is hardened by the loss of a dear friend, but she knows that the feeling of fulfillment at the end of the day weekend will be great.
"It's going to feel really good to give the money knowing it's going to the scholarship that I wanted to be part of it," she said. "It's going to feel awesome giving the money to our athletic director. That's going to be the best part, but knowing that we've gotten one year down, knowing how well it went -- it's going to be an awesome feeling. I can't wait to see the final turnout and to see how everything goes.
"It will be a great feeling," Kendra said with a wide smile.
Her head tennis coach at South Putnam, Johnnie Briones, said he's very proud of what the duo has done by taking on the huge project.
"It is just a wonderful way to honor Haley, who was a wonderful young lady, a very good student and a hard working and supportive teammate," Briones said.
For Rita, she's proud that her daughter wanted to make a difference and put her desire into action. She could have talked the talked, but Kendra is walking the walk.
"I'm really proud of her for wanting to do something," she said. "She's a member of the youth philanthropy committee of Putnam County and she wanted to do something and they were not able to take it upon themselves to do it as the Youth Philanthropy, so we said 'We can do it.' I'm really proud of her for wanting to take that on and wanting to make a difference."
The Haley Bain Memorial Tournament will run from Friday through Sunday. Action is set to begin at 8 a.m. Friday.