Friday, March 4, 2011

Basketball star dies after winning shot in team's ideal season

The score was tied. The game was in overtime. The mood, emotional.

Number 35 came charging up to the net and hit a last-moment winning layup for his unbeatable Fennville High School Blackhawks to end the regular season Thursday night with a perfect 20 wins.

The other players lifted their star, 16-year-old Wes Leonard, on their shoulders. The loud crowd charged the court to hug him. It was the biggest moment in memory for the tiny Michigan town of Fennville.

And then it all turned to black.

Silence fell under the cruel glare of the florescent lights. Leonard lay still on the court, pale in his school colors. His family and coaches bounded him. He wasn't breathing, his friend Arista Sauceda recalled. His heart had stopped cold.

After attempts to revitalize the varsity player in the gym, an ambulance transported him to nearby Holland Hospital. Doctors effort on him for an hour and 20 minutes.

They could not save him. By 10:40 at night, when Leonard should have been out rejoicing with his classmates, he was dead.

An autopsy Friday resolute that Leonard died of cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart, said a statement from Dr. David A. Start, the Ottawa County chief medical examiner.

As news of Leonard's death spread, a small group of people on the banks of Lake Michigan convulsed in shock. A moment of huge school pride was reduced to irrelevance, a moment of joy turned into the opposite.