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 was set to hold 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.”
With her son’s classmates preparing to honor him, Leonard spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night. Since Wes died, she’s 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 due to 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 over $100,000 and helped provide over 50 AEDs to schools in Michigan. The group hopes to raise more money. A golf outing is planned for next month, and Jocelyn Leonard is hoping that at some point every high school in Michigan will play a basketball game at the same time — with enough proceeds to enable all schools to have their own AEDs.
The Wes Leonard Heart Team has also been lobbying for legislation to provide schools with AEDs and training to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest in athletes.
“We really shouldn’t have to be doing this for them,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “These schools should already have these.”
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.”