Leo's Legacy

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​Michael Ramos, a second-year Young Life staff associate in Fort Worth, Texas, loves the high school mission field and the baseball field.

So when Carter-Riverside varsity baseball coach David Lara extended Ramos the opportunity to coach the Eagles’ summer league baseball team, Ramos jumped at the chance like a centerfielder stretching out for a potential home run ball.

The dual roles — off-season baseball coach and full-time Young Life leader — fit Ramos perfectly until tragedy struck.

Leonel “Leo” Garcia, the baseball team’s shy, Oreo cookie-loving second baseman, died in a car crash just before the start of his senior season.

The shocking news of Leo’s death was indescribably painful for the Carter-Riverside High School community, as well as Ramos and fellow Young Life leader Lauren Anzalone.

A teacher as well as a volunteer leader at Carter-Riverside, Anzalone found herself walking students through the darkest season of their lives.

“We would often joke about the hardest part of being a Young Life leader is when your texts get ignored or when kids ask if you have friends your own age,” Anzalone said. “This year we learned it’s none of those things. The hardest part about being a Young Life leader is when you lose a Young Life kid.”

Field of Dreams

If the school name Carter-Riverside sounds familiar within Young Life circles, it’s because Young Life founder Jim Rayburn started that school’s club. Anzalone, who helped re-launch Young Life at the school in 2011, fondly recounts pranks high school kids at Riverside played on Rayburn decades before.

Set in a blue-collar, mostly Hispanic neighborhood, Carter Riverside is a 5A school with approximately 1,300 students. Athletically, the baseball team competes in a district with two perennial state powerhouse programs.

Choosing to help Riverside players with baseball fundamentals introduced Ramos to a special group of students marked by their talent on the field and their closeness off it.

“This is probably the only group of guys we have had who played little league together,” said Ramos, offering an answer to both the group’s talent and camaraderie.

“They were very affectionate, for high school boys,” Anzalone added. “They were always hugging each other. When they would talk about things, one would say ‘my house,’ and they would be like, ‘No. Our house.’ They would all take ownership of each other’s things. It was just very clear they were a unit.”

As juniors, the group helped the Eagles make the baseball playoffs, breaking a decades-long playoff drought and earning newspaper accolades.

As a group of seniors, the close-knit friends had plans to go even deeper into the baseball playoffs and cap off their senior years with a Young Life camp trip to Carolina Point.

Then calamity hit the group of friends.

The details are still difficult for Ramos to talk about. Anzalone described that entire week as a nightmarish blur. For the two Young Life leaders, the days after the crash were filled trying to comfort teenagers, making hospital visits and, ultimately, attending a funeral.

Leo, a right-handed batter who anchored the middle of the Eagles’ line-up, was buried in his No. 9 Carter-Riverside baseball jersey.

The Young Life leaders prayed that their presence would communicate what words couldn’t in the midst of the tragedy.

“The only thing I could think of is to be broken and hurt with them,” Ramos said. “I’ve experienced loss, but never to one of my guys. We had spent a lot of time together, and I knew the kids were feeling it even worse than me.”

Change Up

Ramos was invited in to help Anzalone and the Carter-Riverside teaching and counseling staff provide comfort for the kids. It was during this time that Young Life leaders learned Leo’s little sister, Emilie, was a freshman at the school.

Anzalone couldn’t shake the feeling that Emilie needed to be on the Carolina Point trip.

“There was just no doubt in my mind,” Anzalone said, “that she needed to be on that bus.”

Emilie wasn’t the only surprise passenger.

After coach Lara initially invited Ramos to be part of the kids’ baseball experience, Lara then accepted Ramos’s offer to be part of those same kids’ Young Life experience.

At camp, God showed up in a mighty way, even as the Carter-Riverside students continued to work through extreme hurt and pain.

One of the speakers in the morning “Real Life” series talked about losing a sibling. That speaker would later spend time in the club room crying with Emilie.

“That was so hard, but so beautiful,” Anzalone said. “For me, it was my favorite week of camp ever.”

And it wasn’t just that nearly all of the kids — including Emilie — stood up at the Say So. There was just something truly special about that week.

“It’s the best week I’ve ever had with guys in a cabin,” Ramos said. “It was just great chemistry in our room.”

Leo's Spot

Ramos’s thoughts turn to Leo often, and his life and death are still incredibly emotional topics for him. As a tribute, Ramos approached Emilie, his Young Life committee and his donors about the idea of creating an annual camp scholarship honoring his former friend, second baseman and Young Life kid.

Each year, one student will be awarded a commemorative seat on the summer camp trip.

“Every year for as long as we can,” Anzalone said, “we will send a kid in Leo’s spot.”