Rivals Unite for 'Never Forgotten Games'
January 24, 2018
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
FENNVILLE – The small West Michigan towns of Fennville and Saugatuck are separated by less than 10 miles, thus sparking a longstanding rivalry that has played out in various sports through the years.
However, for one night, a special event brought the two communities together to help support a worthy cause.
The seventh-annual “Never Forgotten Games” between the neighboring communities were played Friday night at Hope College in honor of Wes Leonard, who died unexpectedly in 2011 after making the game-winning basket in overtime against rival Bridgman.
Leonard, a 16-year-old junior at the time, died from sudden cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.
To open the night, Saugatuck’s girls defeated Fennville 55-40. Then, in a back-and-forth affair typical of a rivalry game, Fennville’s boys edged Saugatuck 48-46 and improved to 8-2 on the season.
But Fennville boys basketball coach Joe Rodriguez said the final result paled in comparison to the impact the game had on both schools.
“We circle that game on the calendar because it’s an opportunity to focus your energy on something bigger than us,” he said. “It’s not just a conference game; it’s not just another basketball game or Friday night game. It’s bigger than the game of basketball itself. It’s one of our former players that we look forward to tributing.
“Everyone was there for one reason, and that was to celebrate the legacy of Wes Leonard and to support the cause.”
The two schools joined forces to help make the night a success, including meeting in the days prior to discuss game preparations.
“Some Fennville kids came over to our school and met with some of our kids before to go over cheer and signs and just how we could help out,” Saugatuck boys basketball coach Andy Diaz said. “Our kids showed up early to help set up and help Jocelyn (Leonard, Wes' mother), so it was a real collaborative effort.”
This year Fennville’s student section, recalling some of their experiences taking part in the MHSAA’s “Battle of the Fans” the last two years, invited Saugatuck’s student section to join forces for some cheers during the game. Last week, Fennville student section leaders Kamryn Vandyke, Clay Rosema and Isabella Marquez strategized with Saugatuck’s Reece Schreckengust, Sydney Ayres and Alexa Phillips, designing and planning cheers they could do together.
The schools’ band teachers – Fennville’s Paul Andrews and Saugatuck’s Andrew Holtz – also met and planned the combined bad that played together in the same section for the entirety of Friday’s game.
“Although rival schools, both student bodies have embraced the idea that the cause is an opportunity to be a part of something greater than the game itself,” Fennville athletic director Frank Marietta said. “Both schools are very competitive on the field of play, but there is a positive and strong relationship between the students as a whole. The spirit and heart of the students from each school is what makes it such a great rivalry.”
The close-knit ties between the schools run deep.
“They know each other very well,” Diaz said. “They work at the same places during the summer, and they cross paths all the time. I have a lot of friends in Fennville.”
Rivalry games often are intense and emotional, but this one is different due to the greater significance the night holds.
“That’s the unique part of it,” Rodriguez said. “As a coach you want to talk about how it’s your rivalry game, but this one is a little different. It’s all about the events, and they play a big part in helping.”
“They are our neighbors, and when we went through (Leonard’s death) they showed a lot of support as a community to Fennville, and I think it’s awesome that they are a part of this game as well.”
Rodriguez said competing against another team in that setting just wouldn’t seem fitting.
“Because we are so close it would be weird if it was another community that we were playing,” he said. “It would feel manufactured, where this is more genuine.”
Diaz said the rivalry took on a different meaning after Leonard’s untimely passing.
“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the best small-school rivalry in the state of Michigan,” he said. “That’s our personal opinion, and when Wes passed, it definitely changed the perspective and narrative of the rivalry, especially on that game night.”
Shortly after Leonard’s tragic death, The Wes Leonard Heart Team was formed. The foundation raises money for automated external defibrillator (AED) awareness and donates AEDs to schools throughout the state.
The mission of the foundation is to honor Wes’s life using a team approach, combining the efforts of his loved ones and other existing foundations in the pursuit of a common goal. The foundation “is committed to honoring the children who have lost their lives to Sudden Cardiac Arrest and preventing other families and friends from feeling the pain of losing their loved ones. With this team approach, we feel we can give others a chance at ‘just one more game.’”
More than 260 AEDs have been put into schools through the foundation, and another 4-6 will be donated with money raised Friday.
The Never Forgotten Game hits close to home for Diaz, whose mother survived a scare almost seven years ago.
“My mom was saved by an AED,” Diaz said. “She had a heart attack in church, and one was used to revive her. They had to shock her twice, and without an AED, she’d be gone.”
Diaz, a Saugatuck graduate who coached against Leonard in football and basketball, hopes the money raised by the game can help others who may encounter the same situation.
“I gave my mom a big hug before that game because an AED saved her life, and maybe this game buys the right AED for a school that saves someone else’s life,” Diaz said. “It just put things into perspective. Obviously, we always want to win the game, but at the end of the day what really matters is the cause and Wes.
“We talked before the game about how this game is bigger than any of them. It’s not about us; it’s not about them. It’s about the entire state of Michigan at this point because of the importance of saving lives.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Fennville's students cheer as a classmate brings the ball upcourt against Saugatuck on Friday. (Middle) Fennville's student section worked with Saugatuck's to cheer together during the games at Hope College. (Photos by Isabela Marquez/Fennville High School.)
Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys Quarterfinal Preview
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
March 21, 2023
It finally feels like spring, at least here in East Lansing. And tonight, 32 teams will attempt to build into their spring breaks a trip to Breslin Center.
Below is a glance at all 16 of tonight’s Quarterfinals across four divisions, with all games tipping off at 7 p.m. unless noted. Winners advance to Thursday and Friday’s Semifinals, and we’ll detail the teams more then as we preview those concluding rounds of this year’s tournament.
“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid.
Ann Arbor Huron (23-2) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (25-1) at University of Detroit Mercy, 5:30 p.m.
After an early postseason exit last season, 2021 Division 1 runner-up Huron has put together another deep playoff run. Sophomore guard Macari Moore leads three players averaging double-digit scoring at 17 points per game. After winning its first Regional title last season since 1998, Cass Tech is back at the Quarterfinals for a second straight March. Darius Acuff is another super sophomore, also leading three double-digit scorers at 21.6 ppg to go with 5.8 assists per contest.
Grand Blanc (24-2) vs. Rochester Adams (17-8) at Lake Orion
Last season’s runner-up is two wins away from playing for another title, but this time the Bobcats are led by first-year coach Tory Jackson. Seniors Tae Boyd (15.4 ppg) and RJ Taylor (14.3) are a strong 1-2 punch. Adams is coming off its first Regional title in this sport, with junior 6-foot-7 football standout Brady Prieskorn among top contributors for a Highlanders hoops team that has won seven of its last nine games.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (14-10) vs. Warren De La Salle (17-8) at University of Detroit Mercy
These Detroit Catholic League Central rivals will meet for the third time, with St. Mary’s winning the first matchup by 17 on Jan. 10 and the reigning Division 1 champion Pilots taking the rematch by 12 on Jan. 31. Sophomore Trey McKenney is a force at 25.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Eaglets, while Phoenix Glassnor is another sophomore standout leading De La Salle at 18.4 ppg.
Muskegon (24-2) vs. East Lansing (16-9) at Caledonia
East Lansing has won six straight and 12 of its last 14 games, with three of those wins over opponents responsible for four of their losses this winter. Only one starter is a senior, and sophomore Cameron Hutson leads the way at 19.3 ppg. Muskegon is in the midst of a ninth 20-win season over the last decade and earned its first Regional title since 2015. Senior Jordan Briggs (18.7 ppg) has qualified for the MHSAA single-season record list with 84 3-pointers, connecting on nearly 40 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
Cadillac (22-4) vs. Saginaw (20-6) at Alma
The Trojans are seeking their first Semifinal appearance since 2013 and have lost only to Division 1 opponents this season, with guard Javarie Holliday leading a mostly senior-powered lineup at 15.8 ppg. Cadillac also won its Regional last season and is seeking to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2015, with 6-6 junior Charlie Howell the leading scorer (15.3 ppg) and rebounder (7.4 rpg).
Ferndale (18-8) vs. Goodrich (22-4) at Lake Orion, 5:30 p.m.
The Eagles are working to reach Breslin and the Semifinals for a third-straight season and have won 13 of their last 14 games while navigating a power-packed schedule again this winter. Senior Chris Williams leads a balanced lineup at 13.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Goodrich is a combined 93-20 over the last five seasons and playing to make the Semifinals for the first time with senior Jack Locey (18.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 spg, 45 3-pointers) among those filling the stat sheet.
Hudsonville Unity Christian (18-9) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (23-3) at Calvin University
These rivals will be filling Calvin for a rematch after South Christian won the regular-season meeting 58-50 on Dec. 16. The bad news for the Sailors is they lost leading scorer Carson Vis (17.7 ppg) to injury in the Regional Final, but senior Jacob DeHaan (13 ppg) leads three others averaging at least 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Unity has won 11 of its last 12 games, with two-point upsets of Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Grand Rapids Christian along the way. Juniors Trayton Fisher and Colin Neiuwenhuis both average about 11.5 points per game and have combined for 97 3-pointers.
Chelsea (21-5) vs. Romulus Summit Academy (24-2) at Milan
These are two more teams looking to reach the Semifinals for the first time, Summit having played in a Quarterfinal as recently as 2021 and Chelsea’s last trip to the season’s final week in 2000. Juniors Jacob Stephens (22.7 ppg) and Joseph Cabana (22.2) set a strong pace for the Bulldogs. The Dragons have doubled up all four of their postseason opponents so far and done the same in 16 wins total this winter.
Detroit Loyola (25-1) vs. Flint Beecher (21-4) at Waterford Mott
A 67-58 loss to Division 1 Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 29 remains the only defeat on Loyola’s list this winter. All five starters are seniors, with Dashawn Martin (15.1 ppg) leading three averaging double-figure scoring. Beecher’s losses were to Division 1 and 2 opponents, including three playing tonight. Robert Lee leads a senior-dominated lineup at 24.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game as the Bucs attempt to make the Semifinals for a third-straight season.
Laingsburg (25-0) vs. Ecorse (19-4) at Ypsilanti Lincoln
The Wolfpack’s closest game this season was seven points, its Regional Semifinal win against Jonesville, as it attempts to reach Breslin for the first time since 2013. Junior Zander Woodruff is averaging more than a point per minute of playing time, leading at 24.4 ppg. Ecorse is seeking a return trip to the Semifinals and has won 17 of its last 18 games. Senior guard Malik Olafioye also is putting the finishing touches on a high-scoring career.
St. Ignace (22-4) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (22-4) at Gaylord
St. Ignace is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 2001, seeking to reach the Semifinals for the first time since 1983. Junior Jonny Ingalls (22.4 ppg) leads three Saints averaging at least 13, plus he’s dishing 5.4 assists per game. St. Francis has won 11 of its last 12 games with that lone loss to Cadillac (see above) in overtime in the regular-season finale. Senior Wyatt Nausadis has paced the scoring at 20.1 ppg after quarterbacking the football team to a Division 7 runner-up finish in the fall.
Pewamo-Westphalia (19-6) vs. Niles Brandywine (24-2) at Portage Central
Brandywine has reached the final week for the first time with its first Regional title, and its only losses this season remain against Division 2 Benton Harbor. Junior Jaremiah Palmer leads a lineup with four players averaging at least 9.7 ppg at 12.9 per game. P-W is making its second-straight Quarterfinal appearance after edging North Muskegon by three and then Grandville Calvin Christian by two last week. Senior Jamison Eklund is averaging 22.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Painesdale Jeffers (25-1) vs. Munising (24-1) at Negaunee
The Upper Peninsula is guaranteed to send a one-loss team downstate to the Division 4 Semifinals, and for both programs it would be a first-time trip. Jeffers is playing its first Quarterfinal, and Munising its first since 1954. Junior Levi Frahm leads four Jets scoring in double digits at 20.5 ppg, while senior Kane Nebel is surrounded by a similar balanced attack and leads four double-digit scorers at 15.8 ppg.
Taylor Trillium Academy (21-3) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (15-11) at West Bloomfield
Trillium is another first-time Regional champion, taking this step after falling just a four-point loss shy of reaching the Quarterfinals a year ago. Senior DaMaryon Fishburn is averaging 22.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for the Wildcats, and junior Keymarryon Fishburn adds 15.3 ppg. Cardinal Mooney has won seven of its last nine games to reach the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 and after falling in Regional Finals the last two seasons – avenging the 2022 loss to Genesee Christian to advance. Senior Trent Rice leads three double-digit scorers at 12.9 ppg.
Frankfort (17-8) vs. Hillman (22-4) at Gaylord, 5 p.m.
Frankfort is another team on a nice streak with eight wins over its last nine games including 50-44 over 2022 semifinalist Lake Leelanau St. Mary in last week’s Regional Final. Senior Emmerson Farmer and sophomore Carter Kerby supply the backcourt with between 10-11 ppg apiece. This will be Hillman’s fourth Quarterfinal over the last nine seasons as the Tigers seek their first Semifinal trip. Trenton Taratuta is a big-time scorer averaging 27.4 ppg with 60 3-pointers but also 9.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 5.2 steals per game.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (20-6) vs. Kalamazoo Phoenix (17-2) at Richland Gull Lake
This is a familiar spot for Tri-unity Christian, the reigning Division 4 champion. All five starters average between 6-13 ppg and four have high games of at least 20 points this season; senior Roy Fogg tops both lists at 13 ppg and 25, respectively. This is new territory for Phoenix, which won one game just two seasons ago but has won 10 in a row heading into this week. Senior Cameron Lewis-Atkins (19.9 ppg) leads five players averaging 11 or more points per game. Phoenix avenged one of its losses, to Eau Claire, in the Regional Semifinal.
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PHOTOS (Top) A fan holds up a sign supporting Painesdale Jeffers between the third and fourth quarters of last week’s Regional Final win over Stephenson. (Middle) Tri-unity Christian’s Roy Fogg pulls in a loose ball during his team’s Regional championship victory over Lansing Christian. (Top photo by Cara Kamps; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)