BOWLING GREEN—It’s been just a little more than a year since a young life ended in a tragic car crash. And during that year, Kaleo Dade’s family has learned how much this community cared and still cares about them and Kaleo.
His smile was infectious. Kaleo never met a stranger, said his mother, Tiffany Coleman-Dade. Meeting someone for the first time, he would immediately win that person over. It was his mission to bring smiles to wherever he could.
The support Tiffany received from the people of Bowling Green and the surrounding area has been tremendous.
“It’s amazing. I can be almost anywhere and people come up to me and say, “Aren’t you Kaleo’s mom?’” she said. “It’s kids I don’t even know. And it’s the same with the parents.”
It’s rare that Tiffany doesn’t know someone in this community. She grew up here and volunteers at the high school. And she raised Marlin Dade Jr., Kaleo’s older brother, and Kaleo in Bowling Green, from the time when Kaleo was in the sixth grade. She was living in Columbia, Mo., when Kaleo was born.
“He was actually born in Hannibal,” she said. He arrived a few weeks early—the last baby born at that hospital in 2000 on New Year’s Eve. “But that was just like Kaleo. He always likes to make himself known. He liked to make an entrance.”
She said Kaleo and Marlin are total opposites. Marlin was the quiet one, while Kaleo was the life of the party. Had he been born first, Tiffany said, she told Kaleo, she would have had only one child.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to take a chance of having two like him,” she said smiling and crying at the same time. “I told him he was really high maintenance.”
People are always telling her that they’re thinking about her and keeping her in their prayers.
Tiffany knows she is not the only parent who has lost a child in a tragic way.
“It’s just amazing how many people have reached out,” she said, to offer support. “They have contributed to the scholarship and done so many other different things in his name.”
Carson Parker, a rival basketball player from Montgomery County, organized an EMO senior boys game following regular season basketball. He, along with his parents helped raise $1,200 for the scholarships Tiffany is offering in Kaleo’s name.
She started a softball tournament last year with the help of family and friends to raise scholarship money for students who are like Kaleo.
“He was not the best student,” she said, but he had a lot of potential. “And he wanted other kids like him, who also had potential, to be able to make their dreams become a reality.”
The Kaleo Dade Memorial Softball Tournament could be in jeopardy because of COVID-19. Last year, it was held in June, but Tiffany wanted to move it to May of this year, when it would not have been quite as hot.
“But if we need to, we can move it later in the year,” she said. It would depend on if the city’s Parks Department would be able to open the ball fields for use this summer.
As the accident anniversary approached, Tiffany said she was being almost overwhelmed with emotions.
“It was hard,” she said. That’s when her voice caught just a bit and the tears started in earnest. Even after a year, the memory was still vivid and carried true emotional pain. Only a parent who has lost a child can fully understand the depth of that loss.
“It felt like going through it all over again,” she said. “I’ve never been one of those people who have had panic attacks or been anxious or anything like that, but I found myself becoming like that during that time. I was also trying really hard to keep upbeat because of my older son, Marlin.” His birthday was March 19, just a three days from when the accident happened.
“It was really hard on him,” she added. “And that’s something a lot of people don’t understand; how hard something like this can be on a sibling.”
“Marlin said to me, “This is the first birthday I’ve had without my brother.’”
Kaleo’s loss was not just difficult for Tiffany and Marlin. She said she saw how hard it was on all his friends, too, and their families, as well. And she saw how hard it was for Kaleo’s girlfriend, Sarah Harness.
“(Kaleo) told me that she doesn’t show her emotions,” Tiffany said. “He said, ‘Mom, she has ice in her veins.’” The two met in sixth grade after the family moved to Bowling Green. “That was his dream girl. He told me (when he was still in elementary school), ‘I’m going to marry that girl someday.’ And they were the best of friends. They didn’t even start dating until their junior year of high school.”
Tiffany learned last year that Kaleo had ordered a promise ring for Sarah. “He was going to give it to her at graduation.”
Getting through the anniversary of Kaleo’s death was difficult at best. But the love and support Tiffany received from the people of Bowling Green and the surrounding communities has been phenomenal.
Her house was always full of kids, she said. They were loud, playing video games and hanging out.
“And they’re still good about coming around and spending a lot of time with Marlin,” she said.
Most of the past year was just a blur to her. The community was there to support her every step of the way.
“The tributes and the ‘I miss you’s’ and all the pictures still pop up almost every day,” she said. “It’s from kids all over; all of his friends.” They send funny videos and photos about Kaleo. “I know those are not in short supply,” she added.
These made getting through the days just a little easier for Tiffany. Had she lived anywhere else, she didn’t know if she would get the same amount of support.
To those around Kaleo, he seemed larger than life.
“He would have liked that,” Tiffany said. “That was his mission—to always share his smile—to make sure everyone else was smiling, too.”
Kaleo remained friends with the fellow Columbia Youth Football League team players he left behind.
Two weeks before his accident, Tiffany said, they held a reunion with his former teammates in Columbia at Shakespeare’s, a local pizza restaurant.
“It was amazing to see those kids,” she said. “We’d seen some of them (over the years),” she noted. “But we wanted to see them back together before they all graduated from high school.”
He started playing football in the second grade
“His Dad, Marlin Sr. was at almost every game as long as his work permitted and he and Kaleo talked every day,” Tiffany said. “They had the exact same smile. His Dad was a football standout at Highland High School, and I think that is a lot of where Kaleo got his passion, too.”
Kaleo’s youth football coach, Stu Parnell, played a huge part in his life, Tiffany said. And the reunion was done as a surprise to him, expertly planned by Tiffany and Heather Parnell, Stu’s wife.
For Heather and Stu, Kaleo was like a second son to them, Tiffany explained. The day of the reunion, they attended a basketball game at the University of Missouri and then went for pizza. All the boys were in the restaurant’s back room waiting for them.
Tiffany and Kaleo bonded over football. It was their thing. Even though he liked all sports, football was his passion, she said. He was a natural. He was also a big Mizzou football fan and Tiffany promised him tickets to an away game his senior year. She bought tickets to the Missouri-Alabama game. Their plan was to drive half way after Kaleo’s Friday night football game against Clopton, finish the drive the next morning, to make the game and then return home. A last minute change pushed the Bowling Green-Clopton game to that Saturday, the same day as the MU game in Alabama.
“He was so upset,” Tiffany said. She was going to sell the tickets, she said, but Kaleo insisted that she go. Tiffany called Stu and Heather and told them what was up. She wanted to ask if they would go to the Clopton game to watch Kaleo play.
“Before I could even finish, they said yes,” she said. They also made the drive from Columbia to Bowling Green in bad weather to see Kaleo sign his letter of intent to play football for Quincy University.
“I watched the game against Clopton from my hotel room,” Tiffany said. “I’d never seen Kaleo play like that. It was ugly.” He was angry at not being able to go with her to Alabama, and the Clopton team felt his wrath.
Even though the past year was a blur for her, some of the tributes to Kaleo really stand out for Tiffany.
The top one was when Bowling Green High School retired Kaleo’s No. 2 football jersey.
“I honestly didn’t have any clue they were going to do that,” she said. “Coach (Kevin) Krietmeyer told me, ‘There will never be another No. 2 here.’ And coach (Matt) Chance said, ‘Yeah.’ To me that speaks volumes.” The Kansas City Chiefs reached out as well, with a signed No. 2 football jersey from Dustin Colquitt, which was presented to Tiffany, Marlin and Sarah.
Another amazing tribute was when the MVP award at the Bowling Green Basketball Tournament this year was named after Kaleo.
Knowing how Kaleo thought, Tiffany said, those are the kinds of things he would have wanted to see come from his life.
Two scholarships were awarded last year, and other will be given out this year.
“Next year it will change,” she said. “We will give away one, here in Bowling Green and we will give away one in Columbia for someone who was a graduate of Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School, where Kaleo attended. And we will also give away one in the EMO conference.”
She is also in the process of establishing a non-profit organization called “I Am 2.” One component will be for distributing the scholarships, and the other component is to be used for community service—to help children who want to play sports but don’t have the money to pay the fees or who can’t afford the equipment they might need.
“He always used sports as a driving force to help him achieve his goals in life,” she said. And she knows this is what he would have wanted—to help other kids like him achieve their goals, too.
She said one always hopes their children will listen to them. And in her conversations with Kaleo over the years, she learned how much he wanted to give back to the community.
“We always talked about setting good examples, because there are always little eyes watching you,” she said. “Because you used to be that little person, you have to give them good role models—let them see the right way to do things.” She noticed how many little children would come up to him after a football or basketball game. “And he would always make time for them.”
Kaleo also coached basketball at the YMCA for a few years and umpired for Khory League as a way to help out the younger generations. And even though he’s gone physically, Kaleo will continue to give back through the foundation Tiffany is starting.
“We’ll never have normal again,” Tiffany said, but she thanks God all the time for choosing her to be Kaleo’s mom and for the 18 years of memories she does have. “Whatever his purpose of life was, I think he fulfilled it.”