Drew Hayden will be remembered for his contagious laugh.
The Amherst third-grader’s sense of humor will never be forgotten by his teachers, Jill Coleman and Tina Dever of Harris Elementary School, who met with us Thursday to talk about how students are coping with his tragic death Jan. 15 in a North Ridgeville sledding accident..
“He was the sweetest, kindest soul,” said Dever. “He was just a friend to everybody.”
“He was very charismatic, full of life and positivity,” said Coleman.
The nine-year-old was on their teaching team and each had him in class half the day. Both Dever and Coleman also knew Hayden outside of school through their daughters, with whom he played tee ball and spent summer days at Cedar Point.
Classmates are also heavy-hearted, dealing with an emptiness left by his passing.
Art teacher Kelley Lee led students in an emotional art project, creating paper flowers in Comets colors. Inside each, kids wrote a memory of Hayden.
Off Broadway, a Lorain florist, donated a basket and helped kids arrange the flowers.
Grief took other forms, too. Amherst Youth Football team members donned Hayden’s number 25 on their jerseys Friday, while the entire school system observed a special Green and Gold Day in his honor.
Adults and children at Harris Elementary also banded together to sell green and gold paper footballs, raising more than $1,000 in the week following Hayden’s death.
Kids wrote their names on them and covered the school lobby walls in memory of their lost classmate.
“When we collected the money with the kids, it was therapeutic. It gave them a feeling there was something they could do,” Dever said.
There are 487 students at Harris, but more than 500 footballs were sold.
The money will be used to buy a memorial bench to place in front of the Steele High School field house so Hayden “can always be watching football,” Dever said. The bench will cost an estimated $1,400.
“This project is a healing project for our students,” said principal Beth Schwartz. “It’s a way they can show support and say goodbye.”
When a child passes away, of course it affects their close friends. But it also has a surprisingly deep impact on classmates who weren’t close, she said.
To give to the cause, take donations to Harris Elementary. Excess funds will go to Drew’s parents.
The Hayden family has requested memorial gifts be made to the organ donation non-profit Lifebanc, P.O. Box 74174 Cleveland, OH 44194.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Harris Elementary School principal shows the lobby walls covered by paper footballs in former student Drew Hayden’s memory.