Graduation is hard on family of player who died after game

For Jocelyn Leonard, the pain can be difficult to bear – especially during a week like this.


Jocelyn is the mother of Wes Leonard, the Michigan high school basketball player who died last year immediately after making a game-winning shot. On Thursday night, Leonard’s class at Fennville High School held its graduation ceremony in the same gym where he collapsed.

“He died on that court,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “And this is where we go to celebrate.”

Since Wes died, Leonard has immersed herself in a cause, helping raise money to provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to schools in Michigan. But graduation week has been particularly tough on her. Jocelyn Leonard teaches choir at Fennville.

“This has been a horrible week. Horrible,” she said. “It’s even worse than Christmas. … I teach these kids. I see them in my classroom every day. These kids couldn’t be more loving.”

Leonard’s death last March 3 drew national attention to Fennville, a town of about 1,400 not far from Lake Michigan, some 200 miles west of Detroit. A medical examiner determined Leonard had sudden cardiac arrest because of an enlarged heart.

The Wes Leonard Heart Team was set up in Leonard’s memory to honor children who have lost their lives to sudden cardiac arrest and help prevent similar tragedies in the future.

“If you have an AED, you can give someone a chance,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “That’s just what we want.”

Leonard says her group has spent more than $100,000 and helped provide over 50 AEDs to schools in Michigan. The group hopes to raise more money.

One of Wes Leonard’s friends had planned to walk with him at graduation. She was expected to be accompanied by Leonard’s younger brother instead.

“I’ve been pretty strong,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “This one’s going to be tough.”