Nearly 21 years to the day, the on-the-court death of Hank Gathers was brought back to the forefront for all the wrong reasons. Tragically, Wes Leonard, a high school standout at Fennville High School in Michigan, collapsed and died after making what turned out to be the game-winning shot for his team. Leonard’s death conjured up memories of that of Gathers, who was a standout on a Loyola Marymount team destined to make a run in the NCAA tournament in 1990. It also brought back to the forefront an awareness for undetected heart conditions, especially amongst young athletes.
At the forefront of a movement to detect such conditions is Bo Kimble, the standout teammate of Gathers at LMU. Kimble drove to Michigan to connect with the Fennville team in the wake of Leonard’s death and shared his memories of Gathers and how Leonard’s teammates should honor their fallen friend. Bo Kimble joined KJR in Seattle with Dick Fain to discuss why he drove to Michigan to meet with the team, the emotions that the teams must have been feeling before their playoff game, how Leonard compared to Gathers, what he said to the team before the game and the magical run LMU made just over 20 years ago.
Why did he feel the need to drive to Michigan?:
“My heart was heavy when I heard the news. It’s very upsetting that 21 years later that the public and lawmakers haven’t gotten to the point that we do to proper screening. I just felt the need to be here because the 44 For Life Foundation, that’s one of our key missions is testing and trying to avoid what happened to Wes Leonard and Hank Gathers. I wanted to show support not only to his family but his teammates.”
On the emotions of the teams before the game the other night:
“They don’t really want to play a game. They want to go home and deal with the grief of the loss of Wes. To both teams credit … they really stepped up. You’re asking 14 and 16-year-old kids to deal with such a tragedy and play a game. Hats off to both teams.”
Comparing Wes Leonard to Hank Gathers:
“I’ve learned that Wes was very much like Hank Gathers — very funny, full of life, everyone wanted to be around this kid. If you saw the 7,000 people at that church … there’s probably not 5,000 people in Holland, but they were there supporting this kid.”
What did he say to the team?:
“I just wanted them to know that I understood their pain and grief. I wanted them to know that people outside this local community care about them and want them to do well and their hearts are heavy. I just mentioned to them that I lost my mother … six years ago and I just told them that when I think of my mother and I think of Hank Gathers, I’ve been so blessed that they’re such amazing people that I just chose to remember all the great things about them.”
On the magical March run he made at Loyola Marymount:
“It was emotional, but at the same time, right after Hank’s death, we tried to get the young players not to play for the love of Hank. That went right in one ear and out the other. They played above their heads. We had young players, freshmen, who really didn’t have great footwork before Hank Gathers died. But, amazingly, because they were playing for the love of Hank, they had Hank Gathers’ footwork all of the sudden. It just was remarkable to see. If Hank was alive, we would have won the national championship because you would have had to score 125 points to beat us.”