Hope College and the Fennville community were recognized Thursday (April 14) by the West Michigan Character Council for the roles they played in responding to the death of Fennville basketball player Wes Leonard.

The Council at its monthly meeting recognized Hope College for its compassion by providing a venue for Fennville to play its district high school basketball games the week after the player's death. The Fennville community was recognized for its loyalty in supporting the Wes Leonard family and team members.

The Character First initiative, founded in Holland in 2002, is a broad-based effort to integrate character into the culture of community. The program works through elected officials, community leaders, and citizens-at-large who recognize the critical importance of good character. The Character First system includes 49 character qualities, including compassion and loyalty.

The organization in its program statements states, "Good character is the inward motivation to do what is right, according to the highest standards of behavior, in every situation, whatever the cost. Through good character our community strives to build a safe, productive, and caring community. Emphasis is placed upon an individual's responsibility for his or her words, actions, and attitudes, and

undisciplined living is considered socially unacceptable. Most of all, Character First! focuses on the leaders who are best able to incorporate the values throughout their organizations."

The recognitions were presented by Nancy DeBoer, executive director of the West Michigan Character Council and a member of the Holland City Council. Representing Hope College was co-athletics director Tim Schoonveld who spearheaded the Hope response to the tragedy. Hope College provided its DeVos Fieldhouse was three of Fennville tournament basketball games.

"Hope staff stepped up in every way to ease the burden for the Fennville community, said DeBoer. "As a Character Council, we are inspired and challenged by Hope's compassion. Instead of turning its head, Hope opened its hand to be an anchor for Fennville, investing whatever was necessary to heal the hurt of others."

Representing the Fennville school district were superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer, board of education president Tony Lungaro and student council president Toby Hutchins.

DeBoer observed that the scope of the competition that enveloped DeVos Fieldhouse was re-defined "The Fennville fans began as small town boys and girls who found themselves on a world stage with their team where they all taught the world about love and loyalty, using difficult times to demonstrate their commitment to their fellowman, whether friend or "foe."   May we follow their noble example by serving those around us as well," she said.