Fennville star basketball player Wes Leonard collapsed and died Thursday night after he helped his team complete a perfect regular season.
The 16-year-old scored the game-winning basket in a 57-55 overtime win over Bridgman at Fennville High School that improved the Blackhawks’ record to 20-0.
Leonard fell to the court moments after fans rushed the court following the dramatic victory for the sixth-ranked team in Class C. He was attended to on the court before an ambulance took him to Holland Hospital, where he died at 10:40 p.m, Holland Hospital spokesman Tim Breed said.
“All efforts were made after he arrived to help restart his heart, but unfortunately those efforts were not successful,” Breed said. “There likely will be an autopsy conducted to determine the actual cause of death.
“Clearly, we offer our condolences to Wes’ family and friends.”
Moments before he collapsed, his teammates had given him a celebratory hoist into the air before a team huddle.
“Obviously, in the midst of celebration, I think shocking is exactly the word,” Fennville Superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer said before Leonard’s ambulance left the high school. “And certainly our deepest prayers are with Wes and his family, and obviously his health is far more important than any game.”
Leonard is a multi-sport athlete who recently passed the 1,000-point mark in career scoring for Fennville basketball 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.
“It’s tough to take in,” said Leonard’s teammate Shane Bale, who stood near the gym’s exit doors with a group of others as the ambulance with Leonard remained outside. “It’s like somebody from your family, you know?”
In an interview with The Sentinel at Tuesday’s practice, Klingler talked about how Leonard had a great drive to succeed and that he saw the “bigger picture.”
“That’s what makes him a little different. He takes care of his body better than probably anybody I’ve ever coached,” Klingler said Tuesday. “Spends a lot of time on his own in the weight room. He’s a special kid.”
Fennville is scheduled to tip off the state tournament Monday with a district game at Lawrence.
Easily the saddest story I've heard in awhile, yet I'm happy for him that he went out on top. My heart goes out to his family, friends, coach and students at Fennville High. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.