Last night, the Big Guy took us to a basketball game at his old high school. The annual Hall of Fame Induction ceremony was scheduled to take place during half-time, and he was eager to show his support for both a former football teammate and for the man who was once a batboy for the Big Guy’s baseball team. Since said batboy grew up to be professional NFL player Jason Babin of the Jacksonville Jaguars, we were all excited to come along and possibly get an autograph.
The first thing I learned was that Mr. Babin is less intimidating and better-looking than he appears during televised football games. He was very kind and friendly about letting us take his picture with our little boy. In short, we are all now fans for life.
The next thing I learned was that this was anything but an ordinary basketball game. It was part of something called The Wolverine Conference for a Cause. All twelve high schools in Michigan’s Wolverine Conference participated in fundraisers that night to raise money for the Wes Leonard Heart Foundation.
Wes Leonard was a 16 year-old high school student who died after a basketball game in 2011, when he collapsed after scoring the game-winning shot for his team. It was later discovered that the seemingly healthy young man had suffered from a rare heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.
The school had an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED), which might have saved his life. But that AED had a dead battery.
In the months following the tragedy, Wes Leonard’s mother channeled her grief into forming the Wes Leonard Heart Foundation, a non-profit organization whose main purpose is to see to it that every school in Michigan is equipped with a working AED, along with training in how to maintain and use the machine. The foundation also strives to raise awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and is trying to promote legislation that would ensure proper testing and diagnosis of this devastating condition.
At the game we attended, people milled about wearing T-shirts that proudly advertised the Wes Leonard Heart Team, along with the slogan “Just one more game.” Tickets were sold for a 50/50 raffle, and for a chance to win one of several items of sports memorabilia – including a signed and framed Jason Babin jersey that was valued at $400.
Two of the kids who sat at the table selling those raffle tickets were heart patients themselves, happy to be able to help with such a noble cause. They went out on the gym floor with the school principal to help draw and announce the winning tickets. The teenage boy, who is awaiting a heart transplant, had mentioned being a Babin fan; Babin kindly gave him a signed jersey and a gentle hug before the prizes were awarded.
We are a network of small towns with names like Fennville, Paw Paw, Bloomingdale. Our kids grow up competing against each other in a variety of sports, knowing each other’s faces but not always their names. We are fierce rivals in championships and best friends against any outsiders, and we pull together to protect our children.
And to mourn them when we must.
I never met Wes Leonard or his family, although I live in a small community only moments away from the town where he lived and died. Some of my neighbors knew him or were related to him, but all of us were affected by his passing and by the events that followed. And all of us, from frumpy housewife to professional football player, are doing what we can to see to it that all of our kids get just one more game.
I realize that blogging can be a pretty selfish thing. It’s basically sitting down at the computer to talk about myself and hope that people care enough to read my words. But today, I want it to be more than that. I want to use my little blog to reach out and help someone other than myself. I want you, my readers, to go to wesleonardheartteam.org and learn more about the Leonard family and their foundation, and to find out what you can do to help save lives.