BELDING — The crack of a bat as it strikes a baseball, the ensuing cheers from the crowd that follow and the jubilation of celebrating together as a team at home plate.
Those moments are what so many boys and girls look forward to the very second the last day of school is finished, and summer begins.
Those moments, they are also what Devon Morrison, who died last September, would have taken so much joy in and shared with everyone who knew him.
As children sprint, dive and slide their way across home plate this summer, a small, yet ever-growing shadow will cast itself in the crisp, green grass of one particular little league ball-field at Demorest Fields in Belding.
Teammates celebrate their victories together, but as the sun sets, a small shadow from a newly planted maple tree will steadily stretch itself out over left field.
As that shadow stretches, so too will the memory of Devon.
If he were here today, he’d undoubtedly be there celebrating with his teammates, delivering the loudest and most energetic cheer of all.
To honor the memory of a child who touched the heart of an entire community, a tree was planted Thursday in the very park he loved to play in so often.
Devon accidentally drowned in the Flat River last September. He was 10 years old.
His disappearance spawned a two-day search by thousands of residents who combed every inch of the city to find him. He was eventually found by divers near the Ashfield Street bridge.
Devon’s influence on the community as an energetic boy who loved life and helped others do the same, is something his mother Shawna Smith hopes no one will ever forget.
Focusing her gaze on the rustling green leaves of the young tree that will forever stand in memory of her son, Smith fought through tears to thank the small crowd of supporters who surrounded her Friday afternoon.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t miss him and don’t think about him,” she said. “I am forever grateful and I am so thankful for everyone and everything that everybody’s done. I just don’t want Devon to be forgotten. He was too special. He was too wild. He had such a personality and I can’t imagine anybody forgetting it. It’s nice to know and to see how many people still care and still support us today.”
Devon was a fifth grade student at Woodview Elementary School for just nine days, but the impact he made on the school will last a lifetime.
Principal Bruce Cook said every Friday teachers and staff can donate $1 each into a “casual fund” in order to wear jeans for the day. Cook said it was unanimous this year that the money be donated to create a lasting memory of Devon in a place where he once played so often.
“We usually donate it to some kind of charity, and when it was asked this year of what to do with the donation the first thing that came out was to do something for Devon,” Cook said. “That was basically the only thought.”
Fifth grade teacher Michael Simmons delivered a speech and prayer in memory of Devon on Friday, the final day of the school year.
“We just kind of said goodbye to our own kids and as we were feeling a little sad to say goodbye to them, it brought back that day in September when we lost Devon,” Simmons said. “We really are remembering him today too because he was very much a part of our school family.
“Devon expressed to us what it was to be a student who just enjoyed life,” he continued. “I don’t believe a day went by this year that we did not think of Devon and talk about him. I believe that Devon, although his life ended prematurely, I think he taught us all how to live life fully in the time that he was with us.”
Teachers Kari Reynolds and Melanie May share a classroom and both taught Devon for just nine days before he passed away, but they said his spirit was felt in the classroom throughout the entire school year.
“His presence was definitely felt all year, he was thought of every day,” Reynolds said. “The kids would always say, ‘Devon would have loved this.’ He was a really special kid. Even though we only had him for nine days, we felt like we really knew him.”
The tree can be found between the north and east ballfields within the central hub of four fields at the city park, planted in the grass walkway that separates the two fields.