The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


The Student News Site of Shawnee Mission Northwest


Something to Swim For

Swim team honors Will Ensley’s legacy at new Invitational
Cooper Evans
Will Ensley’s family poses for a photo Jan. 6 at the shawnee mission Aquatic Center. Photo by Cooper Evans

The air in the SMSD Aquatic Center was heavy. Condolences and hugs were exchanged as the Jumbotron lit up with an image of the smiling face of Will Ensley as he held a swim medal. Quotes appeared beneath him:

There were records left to be broken.

One team, one dream, live like Will. 

The concrete stands were filled with supporters wearing t-shirts that bear his name. Tears were in the eyes of those who never knew him. A sign with the words “Will Ensley Invitational” hung by the pool.

The Invitational was held on Sat. Jan. 6, and was dedicated to Will Ensley, a Northwest swimmer who passed away last July in a car accident before his senior year. Northwest competed against Bonner Springs, Piper High School, St. James Academy and Washburn Rural. 

“Coach Ryan came up with the idea and then we jumped on it because, of course, we wanted to honor Will in any way we can,” Sharon Ensley, Will’s mother, said. 

“Will just loved swimming so much, and  I just think it would be the right thing to honor him by naming the Invitation after him,” swim coach Ryan Lee said. 

The Ensley family hopes the Invitational will continue in years to come as a way to remember and honor Will’s passion for swim and his organ donation. 

When Will was sixteen, he got his driver’s license and his parents encouraged him to check the box to become an organ donor. Both Mr. and Mrs. Ensley were registered organ donors as well. 

“He chose to be an organ donor — and of course, you never really think that’s going to happen,” Sharon said. “But once it did, and he was in the ICU, we reminded them that he was registered to be an organ donor,” she said with tears in her eyes. “And they brought in a team to do surgery once we knew that he wasn’t going to make it.”

Will gave his kidneys, corneas, heart valves, blood vessels, tissue and bone. His donation has already helped save the lives of a 42-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman. The Ensley’s haven’t met the people who received Will’s donations, but Sharon hopes that opportunity will come in the future. 

“So to us that’s a very important part of because he was a good kid in life and he was a good kid in death,” Sharon said. 

At the Invitational, a table was dedicated to sharing more about organ donation. Volunteers from the Midwest Transplant Network passed out green wristbands with the slogan “Give hope. Share life.” 

The Ensley family also created the Will M. Ensley Memorial Scholarship Fund in their son’s name. The scholarship will be awarded to Shawnee Mission Northwest swimmers who display the same attributes as Will: strong leadership skills, positive work ethic, good grades and a passion for what they love. 

“The idea for that is to continue on as many years as possible and to continue to bless other swimmers that have a passion like Will did,” Sharon said. 

At the end of the meet, people were encouraged to donate to the Memorial Scholarship Fund through a Venmo QR code displayed on the Jumbotron. 

Will’s legacy will live on through the Invitational and the Memorial Fund, but most importantly in the hearts of those whose lives he impacted. 

“His memory,” said senior Tyler VandenBos, one of Will’s swim teammates. “It’s a great motivation.”

“It’s something to swim for,” junior Gabe Cavin said. 

“It makes me want to go faster,” said freshman Trey Deheaven. “And honestly, he makes me just want to win every race I swim. You know, make him proud.”

Will is a motivating factor in many of their successes. They are doing everything they can to remember him, including wearing swim caps emblazoned with the Ensley name. 

“We’re really just trying to dedicate this season to him,” VandenBos said. 

“ cared a lot about the team,” Julian Gonzales said. “He had a picture of the team in his room. Swimming meant a lot to him, so it’s a big deal.”

At the Invitational, Gonzales won the 100 yard breaststroke, a race that was dedicated to Will because it was his favorite, and one he was well known for. 

“It was definitely an emotional moment,” Gonzales said. “And it’s something I’ll remember for a long time.”

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