Vicksburg, Mich. Wes Leonard’s parents sobbed as they broke their silence for the first time since their son died earlier this month after making a game-winning shot for Fennville High School.
Gary and Jocelyn Leonard spoke with The Associated Press on Monday night after Schoolcraft beat Fennville 86-62 in a Michigan Class C basketball regional playoff game.
They both wore black T-shirts adorned by buttons with their son’s picture in basketball and football uniforms.
“You won’t get over it, but you’ve got to get through it,” Jocelyn Leonard told the AP after she and her husband visited Fennville’s locker room. “We couldn’t get through it without everybody helping us.”
The 16-year-old Leonard, who spent the first decade of his life in Baldwin City, Kan., had cardiac arrest March 3 because of his enlarged heart.
“He’s what every parent would wish for,” Gary Leonard said. “Losing him so sudden is just so hard. I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Every night since his death, members of the team have spent the night at the Leonard’s house.
“They don’t want us to be alone,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “Their families have loaned them to us. They sleep on the floor because I can’t let anyone in his room.”
The family plans to create a cause in Wes Leonard’s name to encourage others to avoid similar deaths with screenings.
“We’re going to do something about prevention,” Jocelyn Leonard said.
The Leonards said their 13-year-old son, Mitchell, got a clean bill of health from a cardiologist on Monday.
More than 3,500 people — including about 70 members of the media, including a crew filing a documentary — were shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip at Vicksburg High School to witness Fennville’s first loss after 23 victories, including three in the playoffs without its star player.
Fennville’s players wore black T-shirts over their jerseys during the national anthem and when they were on the bench with “Never Forgotten,” on the front and “Leonard 35” on the back.
Fennville Area Fire Chief Lowell Winne watched from the baseline, near Fennville’s bench, and raved about a young man he got to know as his middle school football coach.
“Its a huge loss for our community because Wes made everybody around him better,” Winne said. “When Wes walked in a room, it lifted everybody up because they wanted to be like him and he usually made them smile.”
Before Schoolcraft (23-0) pulled away in the second quarter, Vicksburg High School volunteer Adrienne Groff pumped her right fist in a steamy gym to passionately root for a team she didn’t have a connection to just a month ago.
“How could you not cheer for them?” she asked. “They’re America’s sweethearts.”
After the Leonards first interview since their son’s death, they made a point of thanking, among others, the Fennville school district, the community, basketball coach Ryan Klingler and his wife, Becky, athletic director Tony Petkus, board of education vice president Loren Barnes and superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer.
“They protected us and let us have our grieving time,” Jocelyn Leonard said.