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 leader on Barneveld’s first girls state tournament championship team in 1995 — had been declared dead at UW Hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm.
“Any type of celebration turned into disbelief,” Barneveld boys basketball coach Jim Myers said Tuesday.
Myers, the former longtime girls coach at Barneveld — he’s the winningest girls coach in state history with 699 victories — coached Lease during high school and has coached her son for two seasons after taking 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 in 1995, when it defeated Clayton 44-40 in the Division 4 semifinals and Gilman 51-49 in the 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 of 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 game, 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 Tuesday before attending Lease’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 warm-up 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.
"We all have Malcolm’s back, whatever he needs," senior guard Matthew Myers, who is Jim Myers' son, told Evan Hauge of the State Journal. "This week we have experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. We hope to make this a tiny bit easier with a win Friday and hopefully Saturday. Now we’re playing for Jen."
A GoFundMe account for the family was established: Here's the link: https://www.gofundme.com/jen-lease-memorial-fund?rcid=9dcd98bd92714bdd880adaf751287fad.
“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