The Fennville Blackhawks high school basketball team will compete in Michigan’s state tournament tonight despite the death of star player Wes Leonard on Thursday. Leonard died suddenly after scoring a layup that won Thursday’s game 57-55 and brought the Blackhawks a perfect 20-0 season.
The decision for the Blackhawks to play in the tournament is the right one, psychologically, for Leonard’s teammates, for his family, his friends and the entire Fenville community. This is because doing so honors Wes Leonard’s life by showing the same passion for the game of basketball as he embodied. It speaks to the fact that his 16 years were all about camaraderie and competition and courage, not about any anatomical or physiological quirk that cut his journey short. It speaks to the fact that people like Wes Leonard actually do live on in the minds and the hearts of others, who can play to win, even as they grieve the loss of their brother.
The game tonight will not be easy. It won’t be imbued with the myth that youth confers immunity from death, or that winning a basketball tournament is all that matters to high school athletes and their families. It won’t allow the rough edges of life to fade away in the glow of the high gloss, wooden court. No, tonight’s game will bring up thoughts about how fleeting life can be, how precious moments of victory are and how vulnerable to loss each and every one of us really is.
Ultimately, the toughest part of this game and the ones that follow for the Fennville Blackhawks and their fans will be realizing how little it matters who wins or loses a championship in high school. These games we play are staged for our amusement.
Any one of Wes Leonard’s teammates or coaches or fans would happily lose every contest if doing so would bring him back. His parents would almost certainly leave this life in his place, if they could. Real friendship and real love exist of themselves, immeasurable gifts from God that expose our pastimes as just that.
I hope that the Blackhawk players will notice something tonight. It’s very important. It can change their lives, forever. And it gives me the chills just writing about it. I hope they will notice the solemnity with which they approach their goal. I hope they will notice that they are trying even harder than usual, focusing even more intently than usual. I hope they will get first-hand evidence that a 16-year-old man no longer on this Earth can still fuel what is best in them and make them manifest his greatest hopes for them. I hope they will understand that this is evidence that the human soul is indestructible, that science will never, ever explain the miraculous, magnificent human spirit and that they themselves can inspire others by their good example.
Know this: God will be in the arena tonight. Inexplicable, immeasurable forces will be in force. The connections that bind us, one to another, will be resonating especially strongly. Lest we miss them, understand, please, these are miracles.
It is not too much to say that Wes Leonard will be playing for the Blackhawks tonight.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team. He is a New York Times best-selling author, and co-author, with Glenn Beck, of the book "The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life". Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org