There is no proper way to eulogize a 15-year-old. But this is for my cousin, Leo

Monday January 30th, 2017

The Kentucky Rockers will miss the screams in their dugout. They didn’t always know exactly why Leo Travers was yelling. It didn’t matter. Leo was just so excited to be there, wherever “there” was.

Leo was murdered on Jan. 12. He was 15 years old, and he was my cousin.

Do you ever wish you could enjoy sports the way you did when you first fell in love with them? Leo did that every game. He was a lefty pitcher with a fastball in the high 70s and a chance to pitch in college, but when he was killed, nobody really talked about that, which was good. Who wants to be remembered for a fastball?

“A telltale sign of how good of a teammate is is how he acts when he is not in the game,” says Kyle Rosen, his coach with the Rockers, a travel team. “Does he sulk in the corner or stand up and cheer on his teammates? Some kids are too caught up in the fact that they think they should be playing. It was never about that for him. He was there purely to have fun. He could be a game-changer just with his attitude. He is impossible to replace, he really is.”

There is no proper way to eulogize a 15-year-old. Nothing feels adequate. We all walked into Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky., with the overwhelming feeling that we shouldn’t be there. It was easy to think about the 70 years he missed instead of the 15 he had. But it is a testament to Leo that the funeral was not about what he would have been, but about who he was.

Leo was so social that he once earned the nickname “The Mayor” . . . when he was in preschool. At visitation, his parents, Rob and Candice, stood next to his coffin and listened to people tell them personal stories about Leo. I lost track of how many people came up to them. Rob and Candice stood there for seven hours.

On the day of his funeral, school was cancelled—for the county. More than 1,000 people joined Rob, Candice and Leo’s brother Cooper at the church. So many teenagers wanted to step to the microphone and tell Leo stories that the line had to be cut off.

It seemed impossible for a 15-year-old boy to affect that many peers so profoundly—to be so many people’s best or closest or first friend or best teammate, or the one who helped them through a difficult time. But there they were, all with a new story: Leo working with a special-needs child at school, Leo supporting his teammates, Leo always saying hello to the bus driver when he went to school.

One word you did not hear was halfway. Leo did not do things halfway; he was not a boy who hedged. He ate all the cake, befriended all the kids, and played baseball and wrestled with all his heart.

Leo did not just tell a classmate that she sang well. That compliment was too small for him. He told her she sang so well, he wanted her to sing at his funeral someday.

That was silly. Their funerals were decades away. And anyway, she told him, she was too shy to sing in front of crowds.

Now here she was.

And she sang in front of the full church, and it was beautiful and heartbreaking, an act of courage that could be traced right to Leo. It was perfect. Even in his teenage years, Leo lived the way we would all live if we stopped worrying so much about how we looked, or what strangers thought, or what might go wrong.

Authorities arrested an 18-year-old for the murder of Leo Travers. A criminal trial will probably tell some kind of story, but it will not provide a rational explanation. You cannot explain a world in which one teenager shoots another in the head and leaves him to die in the street; you cannot make sense of the senseless.

The trial can bring legal justice. It cannot bring Leo back. But in a way, he is still with us, yelling and goofing around and reminding his friends and family not to do things halfway. The best of us affect people even when we are no longer in the game.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.