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. Then the seemingly impossible happened: Leonard collapsed and died. He was just 16.
A day later, this small town near Lake Michigan 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 sent the ball through the hoop 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, 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 Friday 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.”