Kathy DelGais Butler revolutionized softball on Long Island in the 1980s, using the game-changing windmill pitching technique to strike out 780 batters during her all-star career at Wantagh High School. A member of the Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame, Butler graduated in 1986 with a career ERA of 0.273 and a win-loss record of 87-7, which includes one perfect game, 20 no-hitters and 15 one-hitters.
On April 21, Wantagh and Seaford residents, and Nassau County softball community members, gathered at Wantagh High to help the legendary Warrior notch one more win against her toughest opponent yet: breast cancer.
Butler, who teaches special education at the high school, was diagnosed with the disease in late November, and began chemotherapy treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Dec. 14. Wantagh’s head softball coach, Christine Moran, said that when her team found out about Butler’s health, they collaborated with Seaford’s team on what became the Strike Out Cancer Fundraiser. Moran checked in with Butler in the months leading up to the fundraiser, and said that she is the true definition of a warrior.
“She is the most humble human that I’ve ever met,” Moran said. “She is just so positive . . . I get cranky about traffic. She says, ‘Oh, I’m going into treatment today!’ She puts it in perspective.”
The fundraiser’s proceeds went directly to Sloan Kettering in Butler’s name, to support her personal fight against breast cancer. Five days before her last planned chemotherapy treatment, Butler was able to attend the fundraiser, and said that knowing she is not fighting this battle alone was a humbling experience.
“There are other women and men out there battling this disease every day,” Butler said, “and I hope they have the same support, because this is where I’m finding my strength. Their thoughts, prayers and everything they gave to myself and my family has definitely made a huge difference in this process.”
At the Wantagh High athletic complex, a strong breeze buffeted a pink and white balloon arch on a clear April day. Softball teams from Bellmore JFK, Garden City, Seaford and Wantagh high schools and the Wheatley School scrimmaged against one other on two fields, with players wearing T-shirts that bore the event’s logo. When they were not scrimmaging, the Seaford Vikings and Warriors helped volunteers manage the raffle tables and sell pink cupcakes at Wantagh’s snack shack.
A bright pink poster filled with words of encouragement and vintage photos of Butler’s high school athletic career was tacked on a wall of the school. Mary Jo Fazio, a former SUNY Old Westbury coach and the current coach of Wantagh’s Long Island Hurricanes, signed the poster while reminiscing about her old teammate’s wicked pitches.
“At the time, people really didn’t do the windmill-type pitching,” Fazio recalled. “There was a handful of girls that were doing it, and she definitely revolutionized how to do it — to the point that she used to scare umpires with how hard she used to throw.”
Butler was an assistant coach at Seaford last season, under head coach Thomas Fioriglio, and her daughter Anna, a freshman, is on the Vikings’ roster. The squad decided to dedicate its 2018 season to Butler and another player’s father who recently died of cancer. Recognizing Butler’s positivity in the face of the disease, Fioriglio said that the Vikings took part in the fundraiser to help a team mother and a former coach.
“There is a connection between Seaford and Wantagh through Kathy,” Fioriglio said, “so we’re here to show our support and love. And as Coach Moran said during her speech, we are all family — it’s a softball family, and there is a connection between all the softball teams here as well.”
Wantagh High Principal Carolyn Breivogel and Jennifer Keane, the school’s director of health, physical education and athletics, agreed that Butler was “Warrior strong” in facing the disease with a positive attitude. “She is a fighter,” Breivogel said, “and we are so proud of having the community rally with Wantagh and Seaford around this cause in her name and in this family.”