DEYOUNG: Hewitt's death hard to believe

I was coaching my son’s Tri-Cities Kids League team Tuesday evening when I felt the familiar buzz of my cellphone ringing in my pocket.
Matt DeYoung
Jul 9, 2014

I was standing on the third base line, and the pitcher had just fired in another ball. Or maybe it was a strike. I can’t remember.

I snuck out my phone and glanced at the screen, and was surprised to see the caller was my wife. What the heck? She knows I’m in the middle of a game, and that I can’t answer my phone for another hour or so.

But then I began to think, she knows I’m in the middle of a game, and that I can’t answer my phone, so why’s she calling?

By this point, I’ve completely forgotten the count on the batter. Two balls and a strike? Two-and-two? I have no idea.

I fire off a quick text: “Game’s still going on. What’s up?”

Moments later, a reply: “I need to tell you something…call if you have a sec or just come home after.”

This doesn’t sound good. My mind instantly races to my two kids who are away at summer camp for the week. Did something happen to one of them? A freak accident on the archery course? A fall from the ropes course? My mind’s spinning out one worst-case scenario after another.

At this point, I’m not sure how many outs there are.

I fire off another quick text: “You’ve got me worried now.”

A few more pitches. A hit, an out, a walk, I can’t remember.

Then another text comes across: “Steve Hewitt passed away today… I just got a GHAPS phone tree call. No details …”

I read the message over 3-4 times, because what I was reading couldn’t be right.

Steve Hewitt? The Grand Haven boys varsity basketball coach? Passed away? How? He’s a guy who always portrays a healthy lifestyle: Tall, slender, active, a runner, physically fit. Must have been a car accident or something like that.

The inning ended. Which inning? I have no idea. I walked back to our bench in a daze, listened to an assistant coach call out the kids’ positions, watched the kids shed their batting helmets for their ball caps, track down their gloves and dash off into the field.

Who’s winning? Who knows. Who cares. Some things suddenly seem so unimportant. Balls. Strikes. Winning. Losing. Does it really matter?

I read the text again, then notice I’ve got a Facebook message. I open it, and see a note from Josh Walters: “Steve Hewitt collapsed and died today. They think he had a heart attack. Unreal.”

Unreal is right.

A heart attack? Those are for flabby old guys who favor beer and burgers over salads and sit-ups. That’s not Hewitt.

But then I think of Wes Leonard, the Fennville basketball star who died on the court a few years back. I think of all the other stories of athletes who passed away from undetected heart problems.

And who’s the running guru who died of a heart attack while running back in the 80s? Jim Fixx, the guy who is credited with helping start America’s “fitness revolution.”

It happens. But not to Steve Hewitt. Not to someone who I know so well.

The thing about Hewitt is, I don’t think many Buccaneers’ basketball fans figured him out. He wasn’t a vocal guy. He wasn’t an in-your-face coach. He didn’t scream at refs or berate his players. He was soft-spoken, polite, thoughtful, hesitant to enter the spotlight.

He took over for Craig Taylor, a Hall of Fame coach with a big smile and a boisterous personality who was elevated to legendary status after an amazing career at Grand Haven.

Hewitt was a different coach altogether. But never doubt for a minute that his reserved demeanor meant that he didn’t care about the game.

Hewitt cared. That was obvious after tough losses, when he’d sit on the bench in the Bucs’ locker room, those long basketball player fingers massaging his forehead.

Hewitt never got the attention that girls’ coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer receives. Winning back-to-back state championships leads to lots of awards. But Kowalczyk-Fulmer credits a lot of her success to Hewitt, who helped her tremendously over the years.

Hewitt’s teams weren’t flashy. Some were successful, others struggled. His offensive philosophy was akin to the old Battle of Bunker Hill mantra: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” Hewitt’s teams didn’t fire up wild shots. His ideal offensive set was to move the ball, move the ball, and move the ball a little more, waiting patiently for the best possible shot at the basket.

But one thing’s for sure. Hewitt cared. He cared about his family, his school, his team, and about the sport of basketball.

And now he’s gone.

The baseball game ends. We had a chance to win. Bases loaded, down by a run or two, one out. A line drive to second turned into a game-ending double play. A bad break, but really, does it matter? Not to me, not at this moment.

Some things put life into perspective, and losing an acquaintance — a friend — certainly makes you remember what’s important in life.

I left the game, headed home and wrapped my wife in a big hug, gave my kids a kiss goodnight, and headed in to the office.

I had a tough article to write. 

Comments

Barry Soetoro

Yup, unreal is right. Coach Hewitt - bless his soul - also put in a ton of time and effort assisting Coach Tarr with the cross country team. We crossed paths often on the Hofma trails - especially in the fall during cross country season.

Jason

Steve's shocking death reminds me of early March of 1986 when Spring Lake Football Coach Tom Grabinski died of a heart attack. Coach Grabinski's death came during my junior year as our basketball team was playing in the districts. It was a very tough time for our school and the Spring Lake community. My prayers go out to Steve's family, the Grand Haven School District, and the community.

I had a brief email encounter with Steve just a few weeks ago when my son went to his basketball camp. Steve said such nice things about my son. Steve said it was great having him even though my son goes to Spring Lake. He stated that it was a great way for players in the area to help each other become better basketball players. I could tell in that small moment he was a classy guy. No doubt his legacy will carry on through all of those he came in contact with.

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