Playing for Jai

Jai Reed, with his distinctive dreadlocks, surrounded by his team mates.

 Junior footballers will pay tribute to a lost mate this weekend and raise money for research into the condition that claimed his life.

The under-16s from the Mount Evelyn and Wandin junior football clubs will play for the Jai Reed Epilepsy Cup on Sunday 30 June.

Jai died from complications with epilepsy on 28 October last year.

Mount Evelyn Junior Football Club president Anthony Burns said the loss rocked the club.

Burns had only just taken the helm so he turned to the club committee and past presidents for advice on how to lend support.

“I tried to be as respectful as I could, and not overstep,” he said.

“After Jai’s passing but before his funeral we held a counselling session.

“We had the whole team and parents and coach here.

“We had a good session with the kids.

“They opened up, talked about how they felt about it and what he meant to them.”

The club will hold a follow-up session following the tribute match.

“Jai was only here for a short time, that was in 2017 and 2018,” Burns said.

“For such a short time he made a huge impact.

“He had a huge amount of friends throughout the club.”

Burns described Jai as a larrikin, charismatic and a really likeable kid who was cheeky, with “not a bad bone about him”.

“It was a very emotional round one this year, playing without Jai,” he said.

But he’s been “more than impressed” with the way the team has carried on and he put much of that down to coach Daniel Thiele’s efforts.

“I can see them in the change rooms before games, the tight bond that they’ve got now,” Burns said.

“Just all of them are there to help each other.”

The idea for a tribute match came to him early in the season, so he got the OK from Jai’s family, the club committee, the league and Wandin president Scott Coghlan.

“The under-16 boys from Wandin know Jai as well, through football or basketball,” Burns said.

“I don’t think it will overwhelm them.

“I think it’s going to be more of a celebration, doing it for Jai.”

The Epilepsy Foundation is supporting the event and will receive the proceeds.

“We want to get as many people here as we can,” Burns said.

“The more people we get down there, the more money we raise.”

There’ll be purple wrist bands, stubby holders, jumpers and more for sale.

Burns said Jai’s family were “over the moon” about the event.

“Nathan, Jai’s dad, said it’s something that Jai would have really loved,” he said.

Nathan is the under-16 boys’ assistant coach, Jai’s brother Kayden will be playing and Jai’s mum Belinda and younger brother Chase will attend.

“Everyone is welcome. It’s not just about our club,” Burns said.

“It’s also about raising awareness for epilepsy and what a horrible thing it is.

“We hope to make it an annual event.”

The Jai Reed Epilepsy Cup will start at 1.15pm on Sunday 30 June at the Mount Evelyn Football Ground on Tramway Road, Mount Evelyn.