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Newburgh principal shares bittersweet moment, attends senior walk for late daughter’s graduating class

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Published: May. 20, 2022 at 7:29 PM CDT
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NEWBURGH, Ind. (WFIE) - Sharon Elementary School Principal Ashlee Bruggenschmidt stayed outside when the members of Castle High School’s 2022 graduating class, her former pupils, came back to do a “senior walk” through the halls.

Her daughter, Kate, should have been walking the halls as well.

Kate Bruggenschmidt was 11 years old in 2015.

She loved softball and volleyball, and was between softball games in July when she went to a friend’s house. They rode some ATVs, and hers rolled, killing Kate instantly.

Her family was devastated, but her mom Ashlee decided they would use the incident for good.

“From Kate’s accident, we’ve formed the ‘Play for Kate’ Foundation, and this community, the softball community, has been amazing,” says Bruggenschmidt, “just the outpouring of love and support for our foundation and for Kate.”

Not only did they start “Play for Kate,” but they also began lobbying to get ATV safety laws passed, and they spent time advocating for and teaching ATV safety themselves.

It worked.

“We also were instrumental in passing the helmet law in Indiana that mandates all kids under the age of 18 wear a helmet,” says Bruggenschmidt.

It’s now been almost seven years since Kate’s accident.

She should’ve been walking the halls of her mother’s elementary school Friday with the rest of her classmates, but those former peers say they still carry her everywhere.

14 News spoke with three of her former classmates, who all had on “Play for Kate” attire at the walk.

Maddie Thomas, Olivia Patton and Malory Mills-Lynch are all three seniors at Castle High School, and they were once students at Sharon Elementary School.

“It was just so devastating when we lost her, but it almost brought us all closer together, and we’ve done everything we can to try to remember her and it just keeps bringing us closer,” says Thomas.

“Like Ashlee said to us, you can see Kate in every single one of us,” says Patton.

“She is greatly missed, and she lives with us every single day, and her presence is known in all of what we do, and how we live our lives. We are just so grateful for her,” says Mills-Lynch.

The Bruggenschmidt family now gives out two scholarships through “Play for Kate.”

They also paid for an entire breakfast for the Castle senior class, and they hold an annual “Play for Kate Memorial Softball Tournament.”

The family says they always stressed to their daughters the concept of legacy, and they’re proud of the impact that Kate managed to have on so many people.

The Bruggenschmidts received a number 12 softball jersey, the number Kate wore at Castle softball’s senior night.

Her mom says they also received a state runner-up medal from the volleyball team, another sport that Kate loved.

“Kate may have only been here 11 years, but I think it’s pretty evident of the impact that she made on her friends, on her classmates, and on this community,” says Bruggenschmidt, “and as a parent, I think that’s all you could ask for.”

The “Play for Kate” message has made its way across the country, even to the Women’s College World Series, where teams have sported “Play for Kate” items.

Because of Kate and the efforts of her family, nobody under 18 can ride an off-road vehicle without wearing a helmet in Indiana.

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