Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You Knew Him, Too

Raise your hand if you'd heard of Fennville, Michigan prior to last weekend.

That's what I thought.

We didn't know Wes Leonard, certainly, but we didn't even hear about his hometown, either.

Now Fennville is stamped onto our brains, and Wes Leonard is in our hearts.

We didn't know Wes Leonard personally, but we know who he is.

He's that great kid you'd like your daughter to marry. He's the athlete who turns the fans on and pleases his coaches. He's that good-looking boy who is morphing into a man and doing so with little drama or maintenance.

You know him. I know him. Perhaps you're even lucky enough to know him personally, or, bonus, be his dad or uncle or brother or friend.

You didn't have to know Wes Leonard personally to know who he was, or how tragic his story is.

Leonard is the 16-year old boy who collapsed and died moments after hitting the game-winning layup for Fennville High School, giving his team a perfect 20-0 record.

Fennville is the Michigan town along Lake Michigan where everyone knows everyone. You know that place, too.


Wes Leonard being hoisted by his teammates, moments before tragedy struck Friday night


Leonard died from an enlarged heart, which I always found horribly ironic, if you think about it.

It's among the scariest of conditions, because it's the heart and it is usually undetected until it strikes fatally. It waylays you and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

There's really not more to add to this awful story that you haven't already read, but it strikes me, whenever something like this happens, how it doesn't matter that it's happening to a stranger.

That's because when something of this magnitude happens to someone so young, we relate it to our own situation, our own loved ones and friends.

Wes Leonard is merely a name. You can substitute, in his place, any number of young men or women in your life, past or present. Besides, we were all 16 years old once, so there's that common thread, too.

Wes Leonard's enlarged heart didn't give any medical folks or Wes himself a fair chance. By all accounts, Wes was afforded prompt attention and yes, there was a defibrillator in the house and it was used.

He was gone, for all intents and purposes, from the moment his body hit the basketball floor. A floor on which, minutes earlier, he had triumphed.

Sure, it's messed up. And you didn't have to know Wes Leonard personally to understand that.

That's because we really do know Wes Leonard. Just look around you.

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