The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

June 24, 2011

Mike Pound: T-ball league pays tribute to Howard family

The little girls in the yellow T-ball jerseys, standing in the small softball field in Webb City, were between the ages of 5 and 6.

They were sad. The reason they were sad, in part, is because all of the adults standing around them were sad. Little kids are that way sometimes.

The girls knew they were supposed to be sad and they were, but seeing all the adults around them fighting back tears made them sadder. The girls were sad the way little girls sometimes get sad. They put their heads down and occasionally exchanged slightly distracted looks with each other. Then the adults asked everyone to bow their heads and pray. So the little kids did. It was during the brief prayer that one of the little girls began to cry.

She did it so quietly that, at first, no one noticed. Then a slightly older girl, in a pink jersey, noticed her crying friend, put her arm around her and tried to give her a hug. The little girl cried even harder. Finally a woman, who appeared to be the girl’s mother, knelt down in front of her and took the child in her arms.

As I watched the scene play out Thursday night, I thought about how terribly sad and terribly wrong the whole thing was. The little girl was crying because a friend and teammate was gone. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what 5- and 6-year-old kids think about death. It’s hard to tell exactly how they process the concept. It’s hard to tell if they truly understand what is going on. But on Thursday night, I was certain that the crying little girl knew two things: Her friend and teammate, Harli Howard, was gone and she missed her very much.

Harli, 5, her 19-month-old brother, Hayze, and their father, Russell, 29, were killed in the May 22 tornado. The children were found wrapped in Russell’s arms.

On Thursday night, the parents and players with the Webb City summer softball league gathered on the little T-ball field to pay tribute to the Howard family. Many of the people standing on the field and along the fence outside the fence held balloons in their hands. Someone, using the chalk used to outline baselines, had written “HARLI” between home plate and first base.

When everyone was in place, a woman wearing the similiar yellow jersey the little girls were wearing asked Harli’s mother, Edie Boss, to come forward. As Edie approached, people in the crowd respectfully stepped back to let her through.

Edie was smiling. It was a small smile, but it was still a smile. The woman in the yellow jersey put her arm around Edie and spoke briefly about Harli. The woman said she would never forget the smile on Harli’s face “when she hit the ball for the first time.”

Edie’s smile got a little bigger.

When somebody unfurled a large banner that read “In Loving Memory of Harli, Hayze and Rusty Howard,” Edie smiled and dabbed at a tear. So did many people in the crowd. Adam Andro, vice president of the T-ball league, then spoke a bit and presented a check on behalf of the league to the Rusty, Harli and Hayze Memorial Fund. Then another banner was unfurled. The banner read, “Harli Howard Memorial Softball Field.”

The banner, Adam said, will be hung “right behind home plate.”

After Adam spoke, everyone in the crowd bowed their heads in prayer. After the prayer, hundreds of brightly colored balloons were released and, within seconds, they were soaring high above the field.

While, back on the ground, a little girl cried.

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Tornado: Mike Pound