JOSH KAUFMANN, St. Albans Messenger
It’s crazy to see how many people cared about Brandon.
ENOSBURG — On a night that was about anything but the final score, the final score had the last say.
The 11 points by which Enosburg won Monday night’s basketball game matched the number on the jersey that looked down upon the orange-clad fans packing the gymnasium, filled to honor former Enosburg student Brandon Gleason as his uniform was retired.
Gleason, killed by an allegedly impaired driver late last March as he neared the end of his senior year at Enosburg, was a multi-sport star who scored 1,002 points in basketball and was probably the finest scholastic volleyball player Vermont has seen in its brief history with the sport — he was a three-time winner of the state championship tournament Outstanding Player trophy that now bears his name.
But it was Gleason’s impact off the court — both as the outgoing, welcoming-to-all life of the school day and as a focal point even after his death — that elicited the outpouring of caring that has since blanketed the small corner of the world in which he lived.
“I think that there has been a greater sense of togetherness for many of the kids, knowing that it’s important for them to take care of each other,” said Jay Nichols, the school district’s superintendent and a longtime coach and official in northeastern Franklin County. “I think it’s allowed them to be a little more tolerant. It’s allowed them to realize that they need to be careful about the decisions they make.
“Because life is fleeting. Life can end and you may never see it coming. To me, those types of things, if there’s any good that comes out of it, it’s that.
“And the sense of community. The community of Enosburg has really pulled together in a lot of ways to support the kids, parents supporting each other. This community’s been hit by a lot of tragedy. So many kids. It seems like every generation, we lose a couple of kids.”
Nichols spoke while Enosburg and Missisquoi players resumed warming up for their basketball game, moments after Gleason’s No. 11 jersey had been raised to the gym rafters by his older sister Maria and his younger brother, Devyn.
Maria Gleason was the first in the family to score 1,000 points in basketball at EFHS, after Will just missed the milestone when a broken wrist shelved most of his senior year. But Devyn may well make it three; he won the local Hoop Shoot and finished second in the district. Noting that Devyn is only in third grade at the moment, his sister couldn’t resist a scouting report: “He’s really good, though.”
Having also lost their mother years earlier, the Gleason siblings were hit hard by their brother’s sudden passing. But, Maria said, they take comfort in having learned just how many people care about those in their community in general, and cared about Brandon in particular.
“It’s crazy to see how many people cared about Brandon. There are probably thousands of people who were affected by this. It’s neat to see how many people appreciated him.”
Included in that group were the Hornets’ opponents in Monday night’s game. Missisquoi coach Jim Bose had been the varsity coach at Enosburg Falls H.S. before moving to Swanton, and the rural communities share many ties in way of life and bloodlines.
MVU senior Tyler Cooper, who had played opposite Gleason on the court as recently as last winter, reflected on the importance of things beyond scores in a Facebook tribute that also recognized the number of regular-season games his struggling team has remaining.
“It was an honor being able to see that #11 jersey raised in that gym tonight and playing against Brandon over the years and being apart of that tonight. Good team effort tonight. By both sides. 11 more games. 11 more chances to turn our season around.”
Should the Thunderbirds win their next game by 11 points, few who were in the Enosburg gym Monday night would be surprised.
Gleason, like the others in her family is someone who if she wasn’t playing one sport it was because two were available, said attending games at the school naturally reminds her of her younger brother.
“It’s emotional. But it’s nice to see that people still think about him all the time.”
She echoed Nichols’ assessment of how that loss has affected the students and others in her community.
“Mostly people trying to be better people: Be nicer to everyone, and accept everyone. It’s awesome to see people appreciate everyone, and accept them for who they are. Like he did.”