Fennville upends Saugatuck in eighth Never Forgotten game
By Leo Martonosi
FENNVILLE—Wes Leonard passed away from cardiac arrest after nailing a game winning shot in overtime to give the Blackhawks a perfect 20-0 regular season mark in March 2011.
But his legacy lives on, as evidenced by the crowd that packed into Fennville’s gymnasium for the Eighth Annual Never Forgotten Game against Saugatuck on Friday, Feb. 22, to honor Leonard’s memory and raise money for the Wes Leonard Heart Team.
Ryan Klingler, who currently is the head coach at Grandville, was the coach for Fennville back in 2011.
“I don’t get back here to as many of these games as I would like to,” Klingler said several minutes after the Blackhawks defeated rival Saugatuck, 67-39. “However, I’m still involved in the Wes Leonard Heart Team, which raises money and awareness for automated external defibrillators with the goal of not letting what happen to Wes happen again.”
Klingler couldn’t help but wonder what Leonard would be doing these days if still living.
“Even though Wes loved basketball, he might be playing in the NFL today,” Klingler said.
This year’s Never Forgotten game the eighth, was played at Fennville instead of at Hope College as it had been for the past several years.
“It was great to be back at Fennville listening to the crowd chanting Wes’ name,” said Fennville coach Joe Rodriguez. “Feeling the energy and electricity in this building was something I missed.”
A record 18 defibrillators were given to schools and travel teams at this year’s Never Forgotten Game. Two athletes were honored between the girls’ and boys’ games for surviving because of AEDs.
The Wes Leonard Heart Team has placed over 315 AEDs in Michigan schools since it began.
“We hope to have raised enough money to add another five AEDs after tonight’s proceeds,” said Jocelyn Leonard, Wes’ mother.
Tom Kazen, who was coaching at Saugatuck in 2011, drove to Fennville with his wife Jackie from Illinois for the special occasion.
“Just an unbelievable feeling to be back here tonight,” Kazen said.
Thanks to the play of senior Jace Cossey, the Blackhawks recorded their fourth consecutive Never Forgotten Game win.
Cossey, who was a water boy when Leonard played, poured in a game-high 22 points in his final home game to help the Blackhawks end the regular season at 10-10 heading into district tournament play.
Brody Peterson and Matthew Sanchez followed with 11 and nine respective points for Fennville. Freshman Tyler Schut, who was playing in his first varsity game, caught the fancy of the crowd with a couple of dazzling moves for hoops.
“Tyler has a lot of potential,” Rodriguez said.
The Indians, who trailed 12-8 after one period, 28-18 at halftime and 53-26 heading into the fourth stanza, received 15 points from Brad Dunn, 10 from Cooper Myers and seven from Tommy Beckman in closing out the regular season with a 3-16 record.
Despite the wide margin on the scoreboard, first-year Saugatuck coach Brian Ward loved the way his team battled for 32 minutes.
“The final score was not indicative of how hard we played,” Ward said. “I know the score was a blowout, but we missed 16 shots in the paint. I’m not saying we would have won, but if we had made four or five of those it might have been a whole different story.”
Ward’s predecessor Andy Diaz was with Ward on the Indians’ bench for the game.
“I appreciated having Andy, who asked to help, near me,” Ward said.
Contact Leo Martonosi at email@example.com.