It could have been like any other day. Parents in the stands, watching. Students on the field, gathered, huddled. Coaches on the sidelines, supervising, making sure everything goes without a hitch.
All in one unified color.
But it was not any other day.
Parents in the stands at Lambert High School watched their children Tuesday as they sat on blankets, hugging not out of joy for the most recent girls soccer team’s victory. Wearing not crimson, but yellow. Holding bundles of yellow balloons with white strings.
They were there for the 15-year-old who could not be.
At the memorial for Eliza Farrell, a rising junior at the school on Nichols Road in south Forsyth, who was killed on July 4 when a pickup truck crashed into her side of a car near the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawson County, the memories regaled and descriptions of her bright-as-the-sun personality let even a stranger to her know who she was.
“She was the brightest light in the entire world. There is nothing ordinary about this girl, and I mean that in the best way,” said Maddie Yaphe.
Farrell played for her school’s junior varsity soccer team, whose varsity team won their first championship this spring. She was active in Lambert’s HOSA-Future Health Professionals club.
“She went to all the conferences,” said Jay Parimi, who helped organize the student-run and -led memorial.
She was connected to her church, St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, and had just gone on a Lighthouse Family Retreat the week before the accident.
Maybe one trait was most recognizable Tuesday.
“You may be with people you don’t know or don’t usually talk to,” said Olivia Underwood, addressing the group of a couple hundred teenagers sitting on the field their classmate had run a soccer ball over just a few months ago, “and that was just one of Eliza’s gifts – bringing people together.”
“Even if they weren’t close friends with her, everyone knew her,” said Kate Maleki, also a rising junior at Lambert, a feat at the second-largest school in the seventh-largest district in the state.
Her smile shined across the stadium, from the slideshow on the scoreboard, to the photos clipped to the fence, to the sun-hued T-shirts being sold to support the United Futbol Academy Eliza Farrell Memorial Scholarship Fund.
As long as we remember her, I know she is here. And every time I look at the sun, I remember her.Olivia Gannon, friend of Eliza Farrell
“It’s an unthinkable thing. She was such an incredible girl,” Lambert girls soccer head coach Scott Luthart said. “It’s been a hard week.”
Luthart said he and other coaching staff were there to make sure everything needed for the memorial worked, make sure they had sound, to help set up. To support the students.
Vivian Underwood said she was starting to plan her best friend’s birthday party because Farrell hated planning events.
“Obviously, I never got to finish,” she said, “but I realized this is what I was meant to plan for her.”
Free Chapel’s Pastor Logan Vinson spoke to the students about unity, about honoring Farrell’s memory by coming together. He spoke to them as they all held hands, groups of different friends on different blankets but all next to each other, all bonded by different memories but the same grief.
“I feel so close to Eliza, and it’s been really hard knowing I won’t see that smile,” Olivia Gannon said, “but I know one day I will. As long as we remember her, I know she is here. And every time I look at the sun, I remember her.”
There was no sun on that rainy Tuesday evening, but as hundreds of yellow balloons rose upward, they brightened the sky, rising toward one girl who brought everyone together.
As they held hands, arms, stomachs, and watched the balloons grow smaller and smaller, they stood silent. Looking up toward their friend. Knowing they’ll see her again. And they smiled.