Community remembers Shane Welch with Heart Walk and basketball tournament

Couresty Photo /

Couresty Photo /

Ellie Phillips

One year after the untimely death of Grand Valley State University student Shane Peoples-Welch, students from GVSU and members of the Grand Rapids community gathered together Saturday in Ah-Nab-Awen park to commemorate their loved ones who have suffered or currently suffer from heart-related ailments.

The park, located behind the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, was filled with people braving the cold, pouring rain to participate in the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Walk, an event that honors and gives tribute to those who, like Welch, have had to deal with heart conditions.

Welch died on Tuesday, Oct. 4 of last year from an enlarged heart, a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy makes the heart muscle swell, making it much harder for the heart to function, and eventually causing the heart to fail. While playing basketball in the campus recreation center that evening, Welch took a break from the game, complaining of chest pains. Not long after, he collapsed, became unresponsive, and was pronounced dead on the scene by EMS responders.

His death had a dramatic effect on the campus community. Welch had been highly active in campus events and sub-communities of the University, including the Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge, the National Society of Black Engineers, and was co-founder of the GVSU chapter of Minorities in Business.

As a tribute to Welch, students from those organizations and others on campus, like the You Beautiful Black Woman organization and GVSU’s NAACP student chapter, came together to host a basketball tournament in his memory. The tournament has actually become a tradition for BLACK, and was deemed an appropriate place to raise awareness about heart issues on campus.

“Shane loved basketball,” said Khadijah Johnson, president of YBBW and officer in the student chapter of the NAACP. “We just want to make sure that it’s a tradition within the organization, and we want to make sure that he’s still remembered through the organization of Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge.”

The tournament also served to raise money for a scholarship, currently in development, that these organizations are creating in his honor. Their current fundraising goal is $1,000.

After raising the money, they will finalize a proposal to create the scholarship, which will be given to a student, regardless of race, that is involved in the community and makes an impact on campus.

“We’re planning, for when the scholarship is finalized, that we’re going to have a banquet,” said Cecil Johnson, Vice President of the Black Student Union. “We’re planning for it to be in the Alumni House, (and) hopefully by next semester we’ll have the banquet so that we can allocate the money to someone.”

The Heart Walk and basketball tournament also played host to Welch’s family, who said they were thankful to the GVSU students and organizations that helped raise money to fund Welch’s funeral and supported the family during their loss.

“(The scholarship) means a lot,” said Welch’s mother, Rushawnda McCall. “It means that they are remembering Shane, and honoring him and what he stood for.”

Approximately 35 spectators and at least three five-person teams turned out for the tournament in honor of Welch. Their entry-fee, $1 for spectators and $5 for players, went toward funding the scholarship in his honor.

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