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Fennville's Wes Leonard remembered.

I sat down this morning with the intent of writing about the NBA playoffs. ESPN’s Outside the Lines is on. They are airing a follow up to the story of Wes Leonard, the Fennville High basketball player who collapsed and died on the court in early March.  Now I’m bawling like a baby and can’t even think about the NBA.

I wrote about this shortly after it happened. I hope you’ll indulge my replay.
I’ve been accused of being too serious. Of needing to lighten up. Sometimes I think that’s true. This isn’t one of those times.
I’ve been wanting to write about Wes Leonard, the high school basketball player from Fennville, MI who died March 4 just minutes after laying in the winning basket for his unbeaten Blackhawks. I didn’t know what to say, until today. Sports has become something that often times I don’t like. That too often now is given a priority that’s way out of whack. Everything that happened and was represented in a couple of hours last night inside DeVos Fieldhouse at Hope College is what sports should be about.
Last night’s state regional playoff game was supposed to be played at Lawrence High School. Once Fennville decided to play the game, Lawrence offered to move it to nearby Hope College to accommodate everyone that would want to be there. Class. 3472 people showed up. The combined population of Fennville and Lawrence is about 2300.
The game became about community and being together to grieve and honor Wes Leonard.   Players from both teams wore warm up shirts that said NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN on the front and Leonard 35 on the back. As Wes’ parents came into the gym, it fell silent out of courtesy to them as they took their seats. When the starting lineups were announced, only four players were introduced and came onto the court for Fennville.  After a few moments, the fifth player was announced and came onto the court.  Fennville won and will play Bangor High Wednesday night at their new home at Hope College.
It’s easy to forget how therapeutic sports can be. How rooting for the local team can help with the healing that needs to take place in Fennville.  One of the Fennville parents said she really hasn’t seen her son since Wes’ death because the players have all been together at Coach Ryan Klingler’s house. Like 13 brothers. All eating together and consoling each other.
This is the power of sports. The importance of sports. It’s okay to immerse yourself in fantasy leagues. It’s okay to enjoy big time college and professional sports. But don’t lose sight of the real priority. The vast majority of players never get to that level. So keep youth and high school sports in perspective for what they can give us.  What they can teach us. That should be the priority. Not 3 NBA players strutting and preening before they had even practiced together. Not big time college football coaches perhaps covering up violations by his players. When I remember the priority, I love sports.



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