FENNVILLE, Mich. - One moment: a perfect shot to end a perfect season. The star player, just 16, lifted off the floor in celebration. Teenagers triumphant, crowd cheering, the district playoffs ahead, the future open wide.
The next: Wes Leonard on the gym floor, his enlarged heart failing, his life fading just a few moments after his victory layup.
A day after Leonard died from an enlarged heart, 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, doubting he could be so young.
“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 left in the game. The final shot gave Fennville High a 57-55 victory over Bridgman High and a 20-0 regular season.
After the teams exchanged handshakes, Fennville players celebrated. Some began scrambling to organize a team photo that would commemorate their undefeated record. That’s when the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Leonard collapsed, with an estimated 1,400 fans watching.
“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 a nearby hospital, where paramedics performed CPR before he was pronounced dead. An autopsy conducted Friday showed Leonard died of cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.
“He was the nicest kid,” said Chad VanHuis, who umpired Leonard’s middle-school baseball games and recalled opposing coaches asking to see his birth certificate. “You’d think with his star potential, because he’s so gifted, he’d be cocky, but he never really was that way.”