Fennville beats Indians in Never Forgotten Game
Throughout most of the SAC Lakeshore boys’ basketball contest between host Fennville and archrival Saugatuck on Friday, Jan. 24, the student sections from each school went back and forth at each other with various chants.
Chants such as “You can’t do that!” after a foul was called on the opposing team. Or “We can’t hear you!” as a way of calling out the enthusiasm of the other student section.
During the final minute of Fennville’s 53-40 victory, however, the two student sections put their differences aside and joined in unison for one final chant: “Wes-ley Leo-nard! Wes-ley Leo-nard!”
The game marked the Ninth Annual Never Forgotten Game, which honors the memory and legacy of Leonard, who passed away from sudden cardiac arrest in March 2011 after hitting the winning shot in overtime to seal Fennville’s perfect 20-0 regular season.
Fennville junior Brody Peterson was in attendance on that fateful night nearly nine years ago.
“I just remember sitting above the bench when he hit the game-winner and everyone was going crazy,” Peterson said. “Then all of a sudden, you just see him laying there.
“I was young, so I really didn’t understand fully what was happening. But as you get older, you learn what happened and the impact it had on the community. Coming out here and playing for this cause is really special.”
That cause is the Wes Leonard Heart Team, which raises money to provide automated external defibrillators to schools and other organizations. A total of 392 AEDs have been donated thus far, including 12 during this game.
Peterson scored a game-best 17 points to lead the Blackhawks (8-1 overall and 5-0 in the SAC Lakeshore) to the win. It was a performance Peterson hoped would have made Leonard proud.
“(Leonard) is what you would want to be as a person,” Peterson said. “He worked hard. We just want to be like Wes and play like him.”
This was the first Never Forgotten game for Fennville coach Ty Rock. That, however, doesn’t mean he was unaware of the significance of the evening.
“I played against Wes in high school, so I know what he meant to this community,” said Rock, who was a sophomore at Gobles when Leonard passed away during his junior season. “It was a horrible situation, but (the Heart Team) using it to do so much good. Fennville is just a special place and I’m honored to be part of this game and this community.”
Led by nine points from Peterson, Fennville jumped out to a 14-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and appeared poised to pull away. Saugatuck had other ideas, though, using a 19-13 edge in the second quarter to narrow the deficit to 27-23 at halftime.
Each team scored five points in the first two minutes of the third frame before Fennville closed the quarter on an 11-0 run—including four points from Ben Peterson and a triple from Jesus Beach—to take command.
“After halftime, we made some adjustments that paid off for us,” Rock said. “We knew it was going to be a physical game and I thought our guys played hard especially on the stage that was set.”
Dylan Schut joined Brody Peterson in double figures for the Blackhawks with 12 points.
Sam Larsen led Saugatuck with eight points, followed by Joey Antel and Wyatt Larsen with seven each.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Saugatuck coach Brian Ward said. “They battled really hard in this one and just couldn’t get the few defensive stops we needed in crucial moments. I know we’ll keep working hard and we’re going to start putting ourselves in the right positions here soon.
“But tonight is more than just about us. It’s about the Wes Leonard Heart Team and the work they do. Being able to get 12 new AEDs in schools is really what tonight is all about. I thank them for the work they do for this community.”