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Remembering B-Ren

The winter rains have washed away the thick, black skid marks from the pavement near the intersection of West Drive and Seco Street, the southwest boundary of the loop which circles Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

You have to be looking for them now, and even then, the parallel lines that sway and temporarily intersect are only visible when you get within a few yards of them.

I see them just about every day. I would like to say that I go out of my way to commemorate the place where Brendan Leon – B-Ren to his legion of friends – lost control of his car on the early morning of Sunday, May 8, 2016 and died when it crashed into a reinforced light pole. For most of the past 15 years I have driven the same route from my home in the foothills above Altadena, past the Rose Bowl, though the Arroyo and into South Pasadena. About a year ago, I added a right turn to my routine and now follow the final quarter mile that Brendan Leon traveled during his all-too-brief time on this planet.

Brendan had just celebrated his 17th birthday a few hours earlier at a gathering of friends and fellow students. He left a gathering of friends and was headed home when he lost control of his silver BMW convertible before losing his life.

The outpouring of grief and emotion a year ago was overwhelming. Friends, teammates and probably even many who knew Brendan only in passing immediately converged at the accident site and spent the better part of two weeks there, constructing a makeshift memorial that included candles, photos, cards, t-shirts, trinkets and bags of fast food. We all soon learned that the young man who was listed at 5’5” and 135 lbs. on the SMHS varisty football roster had a strong penchant for the stuff, which soon became apparent as the pile of paper sacks and plastic cups grew and grew.

Nine days later, the same faces that could be seen until late into the evenings, tossing footballs, arranging candles and writing memories to their fallen friend on any surface that would hold them, showed up at South Pasadena’s Holy Family Catholic Church, in much different dress.

Monsignor Clement Connolly, who officiated over the service, quickly invoked “the Gospel of Brendan” as he addressed the hushed audience.

“It is a living gospel,” Msgr. Connolly said with conviction. “Listen. He is speaking to us now. Brendan summoned us to be here. He loved belonging to a team and he was a team player. He had the generosity to celebrate another’s success. Not to be caught in envy or jealousy. He taught us in his gospel to be part of a team and he is speaking to us now.”

It’s a conversation that hasn’t stopped. Brendan’s locker in the Titan Stadium team room still bears his jersey and ‘LEON 22’ name placard.

At the beginning of the first Titan football game of the 2016 season, San Marino head Coach Mike Hobbie sent only ten players onto the field for the opening kickoff. A memorial was read that echoed Hobbie’s belief that Brendan had been counted on to play a key role on the Titans’ special teams that season. As the crowd became completely silent, Hobbie gently guided Andre Tsai onto the field to take Brendan’s place. For those who had spent time at the crash site, the choice of Tsai was particularly appropriate given the fact that he seemed to spend every waking moment caring for every detail of his friend’s memorial.

Though he has been gone a year, Brendan lives on in the memory of those whose lives he touched.

“I met him the first day of our freshman year at San Marino High School,” said senior Samil Siddiqi, one of Brendan’s football teammates. “He saw that I was new to the school and he invited me to sit at lunch with his friends. I knew him all through high school through football. The last time I saw him was the Friday before he passed. He took me to get McDonald’s and he was talking about how he was trying to get serious with his life, try to get into a good college and become a good role model for his little brother, Trevor.”

Carson Jenkins was with Brendan at the birthday party prior to his passing.

“Brendan, as a person and through this very unfortunate event, has changed my whole life and how I perceive it,” Jenkins explained. “As like many in my grade, high school without Brendan was never going to be the same. It was sad, and it did take some time to get over the fact that he was gone. He was one of my close friends, we played soccer together and went to Jamba Juice before every game, sort of like a pregame ritual. I have never been able to go to that same Jamba Juice and not feel his presence there. With a whole year passing, things have gotten better but Brendan will never be forgotten. He has shown me that being nice to everybody is very important because it really can touch other people’s lives. It also showed me that I need to live my life to the fullest and that life is a fragile gift and should never be taken for granted. Brendan has and always will be one of the most genuine people I will ever meet.”

Dave Avramovich played multiple roles in Brendan’s life. An assistant coach on the Titan football staff, Avramovich is also the area director for Young Life, a Christian club for middle and high schoolers.

“I loved Brendan,” Avramovich said. “I loved his heart, I loved his humor and I loved his courage. Brendan was so nice to everyone and he was also a true and loyal friend. There was also a depth to Brendan that a lot of people don’t talk about. Brendan went to summer camp with us and he was such a joy to be around.”

Avramovich recalls an autumn Friday night three years ago when he and Brendan were driving to San Diego after a Titan football game on their way to a Young Life weekend camp. As we might have guessed, the theme returns to fast food.

“We stopped at a Taco Bell in San Dimas, Avramovich said, chuckling. “I told Brendan to get whatever he wanted. He just kept ordering and ordering. I am 6’3” and 300 pounds and Brendan is 5’5” and about 135 pounds and he ate more than I did. I was wondering where he put it all.”

Avramovich is also in charge of updating the many social media platforms for Titan football.

“I left Brendan on all of our rosters all season long,” Avramovich said. “He was loved and respected by all of the coaches and his teammates. He was and always will be a part of this team.”

Avramovich, some of the Young Life crew and many of Brendan’s teammates will assemble at the crash site on Monday, the one-year anniversary of Brendan’s passing, at about 9:00 p.m.

It will barely resemble what many might remember. Gone are the photos, the notes, the soda cans and the Titan helmet stickers that fought for premium space.

A few weeks after the accident, mother Patricia, father Robert and brother Trevor Leon planted some shrubs in what was an empty, makeshift planter.

Earlier this week, the first flowers gloriously bloomed in honor of a fallen friend, teammate, brother and son.

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