Marcus Toelle ran onto the field late in the Amherst football team’s playoff win last week as fans stood and cheered, and many wiped away tears.
This was, and still is, a community healing from the death of 16-year-old Kayla Toelle, Marcus’ older sister. She died in her sleep sometime after she played in her first varsity volleyball match Oct. 15.
“A total shock,” said her uncle, Brian Toelle.
On the back of Marcus’ helmet were the initials “KT,” placed there and on the helmets of all the other football players with white athletic tape by senior Anthony Fasula.
Once on the field, Marcus got in on a tackle on a running play and assisted on a tackle after a pass completion.
“The hardest thing in such a small school is everyone knows each other, so they knew (Kayla),” said Mark Lusic, the football coach at a school with only 284 students. “Each person deals with something like that in a different way, and it touches people in different ways.”
Kayla touched a lot of people during her life.
That has been made clear to her parents Michael and Kris through the hundreds of cards, thoughts and prayers sent their way.
One “heartwarming” gesture Michael recalled was the family receiving a card with $9 inside from a student because his daughter was always nice to him.
Children in the after-school program she was deeply involved in described Kayla as “genuine,” “kind” and “caring.”
In addition to playing volleyball, she enjoyed baking, deer shining, painting jigs and gardening.
“She was a happy-go-lucky girl who was always smiling,” said Michael, a principal at the elementary school. “People tell us she was very kind and caring. That helps us keep going. We’re so proud of her and all the accomplishments she had in 16 years.”
The exact cause of her death has yet to be determined, Michael said Thursday. He said she suffered a seizure, for which the cause also remained unknown, he said.
“God, for whatever reason, wanted her,” Michael said. “He had a better place for her. We have good days and bad days.”
A moment of silence was held prior to the regular-season finale with Iola-Scandinavia — a 50-15 win. The Falcons volleyball team held lit candles during the national anthem.
At a WIAA regional volleyball match Oct. 22, players wore t-shirts with “Playing for Kayla” and No. 6 written on them. A grandfather of one of the players made a 3-foot tall metal angel in the school color of blue holding a volleyball that said, “JV No. 5 and varsity No. 6,” that was presented to the Toelle family.
“I think the community has done an awful lot for us because it’s hard to get through these difficult times,” Michael said.
For Kayla’s cousin, Caleb Toelle, a senior lineman, the football team has served as second family.
“Right after it happened, they all wanted to know how I was feeling, and looked after me and helped out as much as possible,” Caleb said. “It really helped at the time. It’s nice to be with the guys, and (watching football is) something she loved.
“Everyone has been immensely helpful reaching out to us and have gone above and beyond what we expected.”
The entire Amherst community has come together to help her parents Michael and Kris, along with brothers Adam Lee and Marcus.
“The whole community has been great,” Brian Toelle said. “People have been gracious and supportive, and always there to help, and most importantly they have been praying and their prayers have been felt.”
And the support has been seen, on and off the football field.