Each year, students at Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School complete service projects or fundraising efforts to benefit the community.
This year, students and staff worked together on a project that hit a little closer to home.
On May 15, students participated in T-Ball for Theiss, a schoolwide T-ball tournament to raise funds for the family of Brandon Theiss, the Edison/Larson teacher who died suddenly at age 39 just before the start of the school year.
"Brandon played baseball in high school and at Ohio Dominican University," said fifth-grade math teacher Roni Pettit, who organized the event with fifth-grade science teacher Jill Walker.
"He loved all sports and loved to have fun and laugh," Pettit said, "so we decided a T-ball tournament would be a fitting tribute for Brandon."
Throughout the day, grade-level competitions were held at Grandview Heights High School's Bobcat Field.
The event culminated with a ceremony in which Edison/Larson Principal Tracie Lees and high school Assistant Principal Shawn Hinkle, both of whom previously worked with Theiss in Canal Winchester, shared their memories of their friend and colleague.
Championship games then were held between the winners of the fourth- and fifth-grade competitions and between the sixth- and seventh-grade contests. The eighth-grade winning team competed against a squad composed of Edison/Larson staff, some of Theiss' former teammates and members of his family.
A tree also was planted in Theiss' honor near the Bobcat Field scoreboard.
The event served as a fundraiser for Theiss' family.
"The fundraising for the family came from T-shirt sales," Pettit said.
The event raised more than $1,200, she said.
"Each grade level wore a different-color shirt that represented one of the teams Brandon pulled for (the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Browns, Ohio Dominican Panthers, Canal Winchester Indians, Grandview Bobcats and Ohio State Buckeyes)."
The T-shirts cost students $5 each; about $1.50 from each shirt will go directly to the Theiss family.
"A lot of families donated a lot more than the cost of the T-shirt," Pettit said. "Hopefully, his wife, Janel, and his daughters can use the money to do something fun."
Students were invited to write down their thoughts about Theiss and about the things that make them feel happy, Lees said. As the championship T-ball games were played, some students read their words over the stadium loudspeaker.
"Brandon was just a really kind person and always happy," Pettit said. "His positive attitude was contagious."
"Brandon didn't know or work with every one of our students, but he cared about every one," Lees said. "One of the things we hope students will take from this is to be inspired by his example and think about being kind to everyone.
"We continue to miss Brandon each day," she said. "The T-ball tournament was a way for us to come together as a school community and honor Brandon and celebrate him."
Theiss started Bobcat Beverages, a coffeeshop operated by his students.
Throughout the T-ball tourney, his former students sold baked goods in the concession stand to benefit Bobcat Beverages.
"It's been fun selling the baked goods we made in class," said freshman Ethan Elliott, one of the students who runs Bobcat Beverages.
"Mr. Theiss was such a nice man. I really miss him," Ethan said. "This day is fun, but it's nice to do something for his family.
"Everybody's laughing and having a fun day outside, but we know it's about more just having fun," seventh-grader Olivia Sanzo said. "It's really nice to have his family here and show them how much Mr. Theiss meant to our school."
"This is a little more personal than the service projects we usually do," said seventh-grader Kelsey Orr. "It gives it more meaning."
The competition was fervent but friendly, she said.
"A lot of people are just trying to have fun, but some people are really taking it seriously," Kelsey said. "You want to win, but mostly, you just want to have fun."
Theiss' mother, Mary Beth Theiss, was among his family members who attended the event.
"I think it's amazing how much people here have gone above and beyond to show how much they cared for Brandon and what he meant to them," she said. "If he was here, he would have been so honored and touched.
"It still hurts so much that we lost Brandon," Theiss said. "It's a pain that will never go away for our family, but the love and support from his school family helps ease the pain a bit. I know it means the world to Janel and his daughters."