It began as one of the greatest moments in a Michigan school’s history.
It ended as perhaps the worst.
Wes Leonard, star basketball player at Fennville High in a town 200 miles west of Detroit, scored the game-winning basket in overtime Thursday night to complete his team’s perfect season. The clutch play, by the school’s starting quarterback, sent Fennville fans into a frenzy, as the team finished its regular season 20-0. Teammates hoisted Leonard into the air in celebration.
Moments later, Leonard collapsed on the court.
The thrill became dread. Cheers became tears. And in a split-second, every parent’s dream for a son became every parent’s worst nightmare.
An ambulance took Leonard to Holland Hospital. He died at 10:40 pm. He was 16 years old.
“All efforts were made after he arrived to help restart his heart, but unfortunately those efforts were not successful,” hospital spokesman Tim Breed told the Holland Sentinel. “There likely will be an autopsy conducted to determine the actual cause of death. Clearly, we offer our condolences to Wes’ family and friends.”
Leonard recently passed the 1,000-point mark in career scoring, according to the Sentinel, and earned honorable-mention all-state honors in football last fall. He quarterbacked the Blackhawks to the second round of the Division 6 playoffs before they lost to two-time state champion Montague.
Leonard was recovering from the flu, according to Fennville coach Ryan Klingler, but seemed to be in great health otherwise. “That’s what makes him a little different. He takes care of his body better than probably anybody I’ve ever coached,” Klingler told the Sentinel Tuesday. “Spends a lot of time on his own in the weight room. He’s a special kid.”
Fennville is scheduled to start the state tournament on Monday.
The tragedy robbed the school and the town of a part of its history it would have always cherished.
More importantly, it robbed Fennville of a special part of its future.