They needed a larger venue to host Fennville's
first-round Class C boys basketball district playoff game with Lawrence on Monday.
They moved it from Lawrence High to Hope College in Holland because so many people wanted to pay tribute to Fennville's star player Wes Leonard
, who died shortly after making the game-winning shot
to close the regular season on Thursday.
Wes, 16, collapsed shortly after being carried around the gym and died on the way to the hospital due to a heart ailment. An autopsy revealed he had an enlarged heart. According to the Holland Sentinel
, almost 3,500 fans paid respects at DeVos Fieldhouse on Monday, and his teammates honored him by first competing in the playoff game and then defeating Lawrence
Fennville is still perfect on the season at 21-0, but no one is any kind of mood to celebrate. According to numerous reports, players from the winning squad embraced and cried after the final horn.
The crowd offered a long standing ovation.
Before the game they walked onto the court with their arms locked and wearing matching black shirts with the following inscription: "Never forgotten."
One reporter described the scene as a memorial, funeral and basketball game all in one.
Bright colored signs and tributes scattered throughout the large gymnasium. One read: "No. 35 on the court. No. 7 on the (football) field. No. 1 in our hearts."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound standout seemed destined to be a college athlete - either a dual-threat quarterback on the gridiron or a rugged off-guard on the basketball court.
His coach said undoubtedly as good as he was on the athletic fields and courts, he was more successful off of them.
"I think Wes would be proud of us all," Fennville coach Ryan Klingler told reporters after the game. "I just told the guys that we wanted to play competitively because that's what Wes would want."
Both teams were visited before the game by Bo Kimble, teammate of Hank
Gathers, the famed Loyola Marymount star who collapsed and died on the
court in 1990. Kimble, who drove more than 13 hours from Philadelphia to make the game, is part of a foundation that increases heart
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also met with team
members before the game.
In another touching tribute to Wes, Fennville sent just four players to the court for the opening tap. A fifth player, Xavier Grigg
, entered shortly after to another loud ovation. Grigg scored 18 points to help lead the comeback victory. Afterward he said Wes was like his brother.
Though most thought the game's outcome was secondary, Fennville didn't play like it. The Blackhawks fought back from a deficit to win.
Throughout, players held up their fingers - three on one hand and five on another - to somehow speak with Wes.
"Wes would have wanted to win," said Fennville senior Adam Seigel
, who had a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds. "I wanted to win."
Klinger was just happy so many people came together to honor Wes. To both celebrate him and mourn.
"I'm just proud of the way we handled things; I'm proud of the way Lawrence handled things," he told reporters. "They have shown me that you can rise up. I mean, my gosh, the strength they showed and that the Leonards showed in being here tonight just blows my mind. And that exemplifies Wes Leonard.
"I think Wes would be proud of us all. I think he was watching down on us."
Fennville is a town of 1,500, located 200 miles west of Detroit. Wes' funeral is Tuesday in nearby Holland and school is canceled. The team advanced to a second-round playoff game on Wednesday at a site and time yet to be determined.