By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
A green ribbon tied in a single knot around a blue-and-white shoelace wouldn’t typically well the eyes with tears before a non-district volleyball match.
The same general thought could easily be applied when looking at photos of students at Ennis, Red Oak, Midlothian, Italy, Maypearl, Burleson Centennial or Arlington High Schools wearing green on a Thursday in September. There also wouldn’t have been an eye bat at the several dozen football and volleyball teams who took to their respective fields and courts on Friday with some form of “AWE” inscribed somewhere on a jersey, cleat, shoe, ribbon or cap.
And there typically would’ve been no reason to consider a fall baseball game to be anything more than a glorified practice — except for Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Waxahachie Indians played baseball — just as Austin Wade Elbert would’ve preferred.
The tributes, which came in droves on social media, all served to memorialize the life of Elbert, 18, who tragically passed away in a two-vehicle accident on Monday, Sept. 21 in Waxahachie.
Though Elbert had medically passed on the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 22, he was just three days short of his 18th birthday when the accident occurred. He then heroically donated his viable organs on the day of his birth — prompting school districts, baseball programs and communities around the area and state to honor his life on his 18th birthday.
Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood explained that, as the team collectively prayed for a medical miracle, his wife, Lindsey Wood, a principal with Ennis ISD, began to feverishly research organ donation in order to provide the skipper, his ball club and family with a source of comfort.
What Lindsey quickly found, according to Wood, is that “none of us will ever leave a legacy behind like what Austin is leaving.” He explained his former ballplayer would save, at minimum, three lives. And that’s at a minimum.
“There is no doubt that he is going to be remembered and we are going to lift him up, for sure. That’s just kind of been our message,” Wood said.
He noted he’d like to see the newly installed ‘Hachie Heart outside of Richards Park be repainted to memorialize Austin, though he’d have to receive to OK from city officials first. Local vendors have already reached out to Wood to offer their services to embroider hats or jerseys with his number on them.
“My big message has just been the legacy that he has left and how lucky we are to still be playing the game we love,” Wood continued. “But this game, this is why we know Austin Elbert and that is what brought us all together.
“I just hope that the family can look back and see the positives of what all is going on with this right now. I know they are hurting, but I think they are going to be able to look back and see how much he is loved.”
The first in-action display of love came this past Tuesday when the Midlothian Lady Panthers took to the home court against the Waxahachie Lady Indians during a non-district match. Without prompting, each Lady Panther tied a green ribbon to her shoelace in honor of Elbert and organ donors around the globe.
The gesture was moving — both for those who recognized from the stands and the Lady Indians on the opposite side of the net.
And it wasn’t exactly easy for Waxahachie to take the floor that evening inside the arena on the campus of Midlothian High School. Head volleyball coach Sandy Faussett-Stoops explained that the decision to play ultimately came down to the girls and their desire to honor Elbert.
The Lady Indians won the rivalry match against Midlothian in thrilling five-set fashion, 21-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-21, 15-10.
“This has been a horrible situation and a very difficult situation. It’s also been a very emotional situation,” Faussett-Stoops said. “A lot of the girls were very close to Austin and, you know, it’s not easy for them. We talked today about whether they wanted to play tonight because it was important to me that, yes, we honor him, but that we start with the healing process.
“They wanted to play and they wanted to play for him. They all agreed that they knew him well enough and that is what he would’ve wanted them to do. And you saw the emotion at the end of the match and that was because they were playing for him. This is going to be a win that we talk about for a long time because it meant a lot to them.”
Both volleyball teams joined hand-in-hand with their teammates on the court following the final point and prayed for blessings of comfort for Elbert’s family and friends.
The tributes didn’t stop there, either. It was actually just the beginning.
The Waxahachie RBI Club has designed and sold a couple of dozen #LiveOnAustin teeshirts, while several other groups have done much of the same with all proceeds going to the family. The baseball booster club has already pledged to cover all funeral expenses, whether fundraised or not.
There have been two candlelight vigils already held with a third planned for 6 p.m. Friday on the Ennis High School baseball field. A celebration of life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie.
More than one dozen school districts in the area and across the state joined in unison to wear green shirts this past Thursday in honor of Elbert and his decision to be an organ donor. Green is the widely accepted color used to recognize organ donors.
Chick-fil-A in Ennis and Waxahachie each hosted an evening this past week to raise funds for Elbert’s family and a Facebook donation page has already generated over $23,000 in support. That number doesn’t include the multitude of gift cards, meal-train dinners or other various donations collected over the past week and a half.
Wood agreed that the outpouring of support has “absolutely” been therapeutic for Elbert’s family and friends and the Indian baseball community.
“I told my wife that I hope what happens is, is that his family can look back
on this part of it and have good memories,” he explained. “The hurt is always going to be there. The pain is always going to be there, but they are going to be able to look back and see those guys in green over in Ennis or at Burleson Centennial, Red Oak, Midlothian — all of those places. I think it is going to be a good thing for the family to look back on.”
One of the most recent tributes to Elbert
occurred without fanfare Friday afternoon at Paul Richards Park.
Two unnamed booster club members with the Spirit of Waxahachie Indian Band first inconspicuously dropped off several dozen cupcakes for the ball club
The Tribe was then greeted by Arlington High head coach Brian Womack and four seniors who each made the drive down to present the team and family with two baskets overflowing with various baseball-related items, gift cards and monetary donations.
Womack told the Waxahachie seniors that his team felt it was essential to hand-deliver the wicker baseball-themed baskets and offer their personal condolences after experiencing a hauntingly similar tragedy in March 2017.
Clayton Winkles, 18, was a senior on the Colts’ baseball team when his life was tragically cut short in a single-car accident.
Womack assured the ball club that the pain would ease with time and wished the Indians success in the upcoming season — even noting that he’d like for the two to play against each other in the annual Drew Medford Memorial Tournament hosted by Paschal High School and the Medford family.
“We wouldn’t have known Austin without the game of baseball,” said Wood shortly after collecting himself when the Colts left. “And, that’s part of what has been so cool. I love the way the communities have risen up to support him and his family. You expect it from your own community, but you don’t expect it from other people. But the fact that those guys drove all the way over here from Arlington and brought this stuff is just really cool.”
Wood also noted the coaching staff had spent the past week talking to the Indians about legacy and its meaning.
“There were two or three days there where it was, you know, just keep praying,” he said. “And then the day before yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 23), the message turned to us talking about legacy like we do all of the time with these guys. We always ask them ‘what are you going to leave behind’ or ‘what are you going to leave on the wall?'”
He then asked the team three additional questions:
“How do we lift Austin up and remember him and make sure his name stays in our program?”
“What do we do to move on?”
“When do we go back to work?”
And, though the first two are still being mulled, the third was answered Tuesday when the Indians took the field against an opponent for the first time since losing a brother, teammate and friend.
“Austin, man…,” Wood added. “Austin is leaving a huge legacy and we are all thankful and better for it.
“[…] This game is why those guys (Arlington High) just showed up. It’s why all of those pictures of other schools in green are out there. It’s why I’ve received so many calls and texts from coaches all over the state of Texas and Arkansas — it’s all because of this game.
“We’re going to miss him, but he won’t be forgotten, and his family will always be a part of ours. We’re all better for having known him and for playing this game.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith