The anticipation for Reece Elseroad was too much. When his mom, Heidi, got him shin guards a few weeks before his first season of organized soccer, Reece couldn’t contain his excitement. He wore them all around the house. He even wore them outside during the snowy days of January and February, as much out of sheer eagerness as for protection or warmth.
This was the natural next step, up from the backyard games with older brother Jackson, 7, to joining a local Upward team with younger brother Luke, 3.
"Just watching him in the backyard, I think he was going to be good," Heidi said. "He loved it."
Every step lately has been shaky and unprecedented for the Elseroads since Reece died in a household accident on Feb. 17. He would have turned 5 on March 1.
But West Forsyth girls’ soccer coach Jason Bayush knew the next step for him and the Wolverines community. On Friday, the Wolverines’ soccer programs will host a Red Out For Reece for Friday’s game against South Forsyth in tribute to Reece and in support of the Elseroad family.
The soccer teams are selling ‘Red Out’ T-shirts in all sizes for $15 and will make a special presentation to the family in between the girls’ and boys’ games.
"This is a perfect opportunity for people not to forget about [Reece]," Bayush said, "to get together and celebrate."
Bayush felt compelled to do something for the Elseroads, particularly Heidi, a special ed teacher at West who works with Bayush’s wife, Shanna. Jason and Heidi both worked at South before coming to West, and their families both attend Living Faith Lutheran Church in Cumming.
"I’m excited to do it," Jason said. "We’re just trying to have a sense of community. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about."
‘Didn’t know a stranger’
Reece’s community was wide and diverse.
He struck up conversations with teenagers in the elevator.
He walked up to a house one Halloween night to get candy and invited himself in to sit at the dining room table with the owner.
He told teachers to call him handsome.
Friends in the neighborhood called him the little mayor.
Bus drivers heard all about Chubby, Reece’s nickname for Luke.
"He didn’t know a stranger," said Holly Terry, Heidi’s sister and a former teacher at Lambert and South. "He could talk to anybody. He could make anybody smile. He was always dancing and singing – always. He just was the happiest little boy."
Brothers stick together
Reece’s loyalty was deep and firm.
He was one of three boys, and this, Heidi told them, was a blessing.
She made them each a long sleeve T-shirt and had their pictures printed on it with the words, ‘Brothers stick together.’
"I just pounded it into their head," Heidi said. "They not only believed it; they lived it. Those three were inseparable."
And so when Jackson and Reece were roughhousing in the upstairs hallway and the pictured was knocked down and the glass shattered everywhere and Heidi ran up to find out what happened and who did it, her best efforts went nowhere.
She only got a resolute look and the response, "I don’t know. Brothers stick together."
And when the three were whirling swords around and Heidi told them to knock it off, they were undeterred: "But mom, brothers stick together."
And if they wanted to have a brother’s sleepover night: "Brothers stick together."
"They just did everything together," Heidi said. "They were best friends."
‘We just miss him’
The most glaring difference is the silence.
Few can understand. There are still three children and two Dachshunds running around, which by nature creates standard levels of chaos and noise and revelry.
But the Elseroads can hear the still-new silence in the dance parties before bedtime in the upstairs hallway that used to happen every night, 30 minutes before heads hit pillows.
Or riding in the minivan when Reece’s favorite TobyMac song, "Steal My Show," would play and he’d yell for Heidi to turn it up so he could sing every word and do every choreographed hand gesture he made up.
So as part of Friday’s celebration, there will be dancing, Bayush said. There will be special gifts with soccer in mind. There will be Jackson down on the field serving as the ball boy for the day.
But most of all, there will be a time to remember Reese Elseroad
"We are so blessed that we live in a community that would think to do this," Heidi said.
"We know without a doubt where [Reece is] at. And we know if given the chance he wouldn’t trade places with us. But we just miss him."