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WIAA state boys basketball: Barneveld balances state berth with passing of player’s mother

March 15, 2017 GMT

A time of celebration has become a period of mourning for the Barneveld boys basketball team this week.

The Golden Eagles earned their second consecutive WIAA Division 5 state tournament berth — and second overall — with a 62-42 sectional victory over Hilbert on Saturday in Watertown. The win propelled Barneveld into Friday’s state semifinals against Marshfield Columbus at the Kohl Center.

But 10 minutes after returning to Barneveld on Saturday, the team learned that Jennifer Lease — mother of 6-foot-3 sophomore forward/guard Malcolm Reed and who was a former player for Barneveld’s first girls state tournament team in 1995 — had died of a brain aneurysm at UW Hospital.

“Any type of celebration turned into disbelief,” Barneveld boys basketball coach Jim Myers said Tuesday.

Myers, the former longtime girls coach at Barneveld who’s the winningest girls coach in state history with 699 victories, coached Lease during high school and has coached her son for the two seasons since Myers took over the boys program.

“His mannerisms, the way he can take over a room, I had never looked at it before, but that was Jen, too,” Myers said. “You can see what he got from his mom. It’s Jen. Full of life, with a big personality.”

Lease was a 6-2 junior center who started for the Barneveld team that defeated Clayton 44-40 in the Division 4 semifinals and Gilman 51-49 in the 1995 state title game. It was the first of six state championships for the Barneveld girls.

“She was a good player, an all-conference ballplayer,” Myers said about Lease, who was a team leader as a senior. “She was always the jovial one. You could tease Jen and she’d tease right back. She was fun and funny. All that, and she was a kind-hearted young lady. She loved Barneveld and basketball.”

Her love of the game extended to watching her son play.

“She was really proud of him,” Myers said.

Lease, 38, passed out and collapsed while standing in line waiting to enter Saturday’s sectional championship, Myers said.

Malcolm Reed checked on his mother while she was being initially treated, and the coaches then let him decide whether he wanted to play. He turned in a strong performance, including scoring 13 points, during the game while she was taken by Med Flight to UW Hospital, Myers said.

“The performance he put on … with that in the back of his mind, a high school sophomore performing like that, when we knew there was clearly something wrong, was pretty inspiring,” Myers said.

As was the team’s effort.

“Nobody has been through this,” Myers said. “The way they pulled together was pretty amazing.”

But the team’s joy after winning the sectional was replaced by sadness.

“It definitely put a focus on what are the more important things in life,” Myers said. “We have tried to keep communications open (with the student-athletes) — if they have any questions or things that are bothering them. We will leave it up to Malcolm and the boys as to what they want to accomplish this week. It’s hard to force emotion on someone if they aren’t ready for it.

“We all realize the situation. There will be a mourning period for a lot of people. … This is life. You take the good with the bad and balance it the best way you can.”

The Eagles and the Barneveld community are trying to balance grieving with the excitement of reaching the state tournament.

“The boys are still all looking forward to it,” Myers said.

Myers said the team planned to practice, then attend Tuesday’s visitation in Mount Horeb. Lease’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Life Church in Mount Horeb.

“We’ll see how he feels,” Myers said about Reed, who wasn’t available for comment. “It’s up to him. He wants to be prepared if he plays on Friday. He doesn’t want to let his team down, but it’s a balancing act.”

Myers, having known how Lease loved basketball, believes he knows what she would tell her son.

“It meant a lot to Jen,” Myers said. “I think she’d say, `Play that ballgame.’ ”

The team plans to wear warmup shirts with Lease’s No. 50 jersey number.

A portion of the profits of the high school’s sale of state T-shirts will go to Lease’s sons, Malcolm Reed and Michael Lease.

“You can see what he (Malcolm) got from his mom. It’s Jen. Full of life, with a big personality.” Jim Myers, Barneveld boys basketball coach