GARRETTSVILLE — A colorful tribute to a child killed in a car crash nearly two weeks ago took place Sunday.
Members of area youth football teams along with cheerleaders, coaches and families released balloons in tribute to Paisley Rae-Gene Vanek, the 3-year-old killed Sept. 10.
Players from the varsity youth football teams at the Garfield and Crestwood school districts as well as other players, coaches and families gathered on the field, holding pink, purple and white balloons in tribute to the child. Pete D’Amico, a past youth football coach, announced the tribute as more than 200 balloons were launched. He described Paisley as a child with “maybe more than a little sass” who lived each day to the fullest.
“No matter how hard it is, Paisley would not want us to be sad for long,” D’Amico said. “Until we meet again, sweet princess.”
Paisley died in a two-car crash shortly after 3 p.m. Sept. 10 in Auburn Township, just north of U.S. 422 in southern Geauga County. Also in the car were Paisley’s mother, Amber Vanek; her aunt, Tamra Bell; and her cousin, Norah Bell, age 6, both of Burton. Norah also sustained serious injuries in the crash but is now recovering at home, according to her fundraiser page on GoFundMe.
Paisley is survived by her parents, Amber and Josh, and an older brother, Jace, a junior varsity football player for Garfield.
Jessica Pennell, a youth football mom at Garfield, said she helped organize the effort because Paisley was a familiar sight at youth football practices and games.
“Little Miss Paisley has grown up on our sidelines,” she said. “We saw her five days a week, from the time she was in a carrier.”
Youth football players wore pink “Paisley Power” stickers on their helmets, with many players adding pink socks in tribute to the child. Cheerleaders and parents also wore the stickers.
She said she was impressed when coaches from the Crestwood varsity team not only agreed to give time for the balloon launch before Sunday’s game, but also agreed to get their own balloons so they could be part of the launch.
A fundraiser for the Bell and Vanek families will take place from 2 to 8 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Woods Barn and Garden Center, 9916 Nichols Road, Windham. The event will include food, 50/50 and raffle baskets, as well as collection boxes for L.O.L. balls, headbands and head scarves. All proceeds will be divided between the two families.
A GoFundMe page, “Peace for Paisley” has raised more than $33,000 for the Vanek family. A second GoFundMe page, "Help Norah Bell Heal,” has raised more than $16,000 for the 6-year-old girl’s medical expenses.
Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or email@example.com.