Dale G. Young / The Detroit News
Whitney Kropp was named to the homecoming court as a joke by her classmates, but the tiny farm town of West Branch, Mich., has rallied around her.
A tiny farming town in Michigan is rallying around a 16-year-old girl who was voted to be on a high school homecoming court as part of a prank. Local businesses are picking up the tab for her special night, while a neighbor started a Facebook support page.
"It’s been overwhelming," Bernice Kropp told NBC News on Monday. Her daughter, Whitney Kropp, is at the center of the controversy at West Branch’s Ogemaw Heights High School, north of Saginaw.
Kropp said Whitney was humiliated when she learned Sept. 13 that her selection to the homecoming court had been part of a joke. She said students pointed at her in the hallways and laughed, and the boy who was picked with her withdrew.
"She was getting ridiculed in school and on Facebook," Kropp said.
"But then," Kropp added, "other kids started coming up to her and saying, 'Whitney, don’t let them stop you from going to homecoming. You need to go ahead, you need to do it'."
Kropp said her daughter, a sophomore, had been picked on before at school, but not to the extent of the peer vote that selects popular students to the court, which traditionally names a queen, king and princes and princesses from each class. The high school has about 800 students.
"I thought I wasn't worthy. I was this big old joke," Whitney told The Detroit News.
Dan Cwayna, the superintendent of the West Branch-Rose City School District, told NBC News he is aware of the situation. “I do not have much to add at this time,” he said, adding “I am hesitant to say anything out of privacy and concerns for the student involved.”
Kropp described her daughter as quiet, polite and kind, rarely finding fault with peers and people. Kropp said Whitney has a date for the dance this Saturday, "and it’s her boyfriend who has been very quiet and supportive through all of this."
"You want to protect your kid, and you feel angry and mad at what has happened, but at the same time the outpouring to help her has been beyond expected," Kropp said.
Word spread quickly through the community of about 2,100 residents in West Branch. Resident Jamie Kline started a Facebook support page, gaining more than 4,000 likes in Michigan and nationwide. Personal stories of bullying and messages of encouragement filled the page, among them:
"You go, girl! From here in California, it looks like you won the vote legitimately but some of your "friends" got jealous and nasty about it. Their "joke" never really happened! Hold your head high and have a good time," Raymond Puffer.
"Whitney YOU are a beautiful gal inside and out and dont ever let anyone tell you any different,” Karen Morrison Gross.
"I am so proud of this young lady ((((You GO, Girl))))), her family and the awesome community we share! It's high time we ALL take a stand against bullies. They come in all sizes, ages and social arenas. Be Kind ALWAYS,” Ginger Warren.
Jen Case, who is with Whit’s End Salon in West Branch, said the salon owner donated services to cut, color and style Kropp’s hair. "Bullying is a big thing and we wanted to turn this into a positive moment," Case said.
Other local businesses are paying for Whitney’s dinner, gown, shoes and a tiara for the dance.
"We live in this community and we’re about the community and giving back," Case told NBC News. "We wanted to help this young lady have a special night."
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