It wasn’t easy to tell the teams in the Michigan state high-school tournament opener apart Monday night. Both wore black “Never Forgotten” T-shirts. The teams shared a pregame meal and listened to Bo Kimble, who knows about these things, talk about playing a basketball game after an unfathomably painful personal loss.
Fennville and Lawrenceville high schools were dealing with playing the first game since Wes Leonard, a 16-year-old star player for Fennville, died of cardiac arrest shortly after a game Thursday night. They listened to Kimble, who lost his Loyola Marymount teammate Hank Gathers to cardiac arrest 21 years ago. They listened to Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo.
Then they went out to play a game. Fennville players took the court arm in arm, led by Wes’ younger brother Mitchell (in a white “Never Forgotten” T-shirt), and opened the game with four players.
“It was really hard to get Jocelyn and Gary [Wes Leonard’s parents] to come here,” said Jim Leonard, Wes’ uncle, said. “Until today, they really had no idea what was going on outside the four walls of their home. We’ve been sheltering them from all of this. We started feeding them little bits of things that were going on. ... When we pulled in the parking lot, they had no idea what was going on, so it was very overwhelming to say the least. I don’t even know how they can describe the feelings of sorrow that they’re going through, but on the same hand, the amount of love and support.”
With a fourth-quarter burst, the Fennville Blackhawks, now 21-0, won the game 65-54 and will play again Wednesday. Today, their teammate will be buried.