High school player dies after winning shot

By Tim Martin
Associated Press / March 5, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

FENNVILLE, Mich. — It was the perfect shot to end a perfect season. Then came the tragedy so unthinkable it didn’t seem real.

Wes Leonard’s game-winning layup in overtime brought the Fennville High School crowd to its feet, and joyous teammates and fans quickly surrounded their star player. A moment later, Leonard collapsed and died. He was just 16.

A day later, with the death blamed on an enlarged heart, this small town remembered an “all-American kid’’ whose athletic heroics had been local legend since middle school, when opposing coaches sometimes asked to see his birth certificate, not believing someone so young could be so skilled.

“He was a good kid, a good friend to have and a good person to hang around with,’’ DeMarcus McGee, who played football and basketball with Leonard, said between sobs. “You never thought it could be him. He was so healthy. It shouldn’t happen.’’

On Thursday evening, Leonard scored from close range with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game. The final shot gave Fennville a 57-55 victory over Bridgman High and a 20-0 regular season.

After the teams exchanged handshakes, Fennville players scrambled together for a team photo to commemorate their undefeated record. That’s when the 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound Leonard collapsed.

“Thirty seconds earlier, he was laying in the winning bucket,’’ said Ryan Klingler, basketball coach in Fennville, about 200 miles west of Detroit. “And then 10 seconds later . . . everything’s pulled out from under you, from out of nowhere.’’

Leonard was rushed to nearby Holland Hospital, where paramedics performed CPR before he was pronounced dead. An autopsy conducted yesterday by the Ottawa County medical examiner showed Leonard died of cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.

“It shouldn’t have been like this,’’ teammate Adam Siegel said. “Too young.’’

Leonard, who played basketball as a freshman and then spent two seasons as a starter, led the Blackhawks throughout the 2010-11 season.

“He was just an amazing kid,’’ Klingler said. “What made him special is he had a passion about everything he did. He had a passion to be his best.’’

The Fennville team was scheduled to compete in the district playoffs Monday, but school officials had not decided yesterday whether to play the game.