Whitney Kropp plays with her dog Lucy at her home in West Branch on Thursday. (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
West Branch — When Whitney Kropp is introduced tonight as part of Ogemaw Heights High School's homecoming court, the spotlight won't just be on her.
The small farming town of West Branch will be thrust further into a national media frenzy — and not everyone is happy about it. Much of the town has rallied around Kropp, with businesses donating a dress, flowers and a salon trip to the 16-year-old sophomore after classmates voted her onto the homecoming court as a joke.
Some residents fear the incident will tarnish West Branch's image; others see it as a lesson on the consequences of bullying. It's left the town overwhelmed.
"It was something small that turned into something so large," said Jen Case, manager of Whit's End salon, which gave Kropp a haircut, color, updo and makeup treatment for this weekend's festivities. "From all of it, we hope to see other kids who are being bullied step up and speak out."
Tonight, Kropp will be introduced along with the rest of the homecoming court at halftime of Ogemaw Heights' game against Cadillac.
Saturday, she'll attend the school's homecoming dance in an orange dress — Kropp's favorite color — donated by a local shop, Glass Slipper Inc., and two local families.
"We've helped out students before, but never with this kind of spotlight," said owner Jessica Zettle. "It's a beautiful dress and she looks beautiful in it."
Vicki Carlson, owner of the Ink and Thread store, made orange T-shirts with the slogan "It's not cool to be cruel" to support Kropp.
"I was glad to hear her say this was making her stronger and not bringing her down," she said.
After initially being hurt by the prank some of her classmates played, Kropp decided to attend homecoming anyway. The Kropps appeared on "Today" and other national news shows. They've received offers for book and movie deals. West Branch Greenhouse owner David Evergreen is taking phone orders to send flowers to Kropp.
"They've come in from Alabama, California, Georgia and a few from around the state," he said. "The basic sentiments are people are proud of her."
Her mother, Bernice Kropp, said she's stunned by the support: "I never in a million years dreamed it would go all over the country. Who thinks that?"
While people rallied around Kropp, her sophomore escort for tonight, Josh Awrey, has faced a backlash over reports he had quit the homecoming court after her election.
"I feel very bad for what happened to this girl. These kids should be ashamed of that. But my son was no part of it," said his mother, Brenda Awrey.
"It was a select group of kids who did something stupid to this girl and now the whole sophomore class is paying the price."
Awrey said Josh never wanted to be a part of homecoming court: "Regardless if it was Whitney, if it was another girl, it didn't matter. It's not who he is."
Kropp addressed the rumors in a YouTube video.
"Many of you guys think he might have dropped out of the court. Well, I talked to him personally and he said he is going to stay in the court," she said in the video. "He feels like he should not be blamed for anything and the stuff lots of people are saying is wrong."
West Branch-Rose City School District Superintendent Dan Cwayna would not comment on the uproar.
Sophomore Stephanie Janczewski, 15, said the media frenzy is upsetting.
"People in New York City know us now, a tiny, little farm town, and they're calling us jerks," she said. "The principal or somebody should have taken care of it. Not the whole world."