From A Friend: Zach Hollywood

My name is John Gordon. I’m a member of Ball State Sports Link and Zach Hollywood’s friend.

Today I was planning to attend football practice. I would rather spend this time putting into words my perspective of knowing the late, Zach Hollywood.

They say it’s a small world. They’re not kidding.

I was the play-by-play voice for Zach’s high school basketball games during his sophomore and junior year. And, man could he play.

During my freshman year on campus, I was alerted someone from my hometown was thinking about signing with Ball State. You see, James Madison University had him all wrapped up, until the 21,000 students here in Muncie were given the opportunity to have him here as a friend.

I remember letting Zach know Ball State would love to have him.

His response?  “It’s a possibility!”

Do you ever get that feeling where you know the awesome future scenario in your head is going to pan out? Well I had it here. Zach was coming to Ball State.

I was fortunate to be with him for his entire recruitment visit. I knew it meant a lot to him having a friend show him around rather than a tour guide or even a coach.

Now looking back, it means more to me.

I knew Zach was coming to Ball State the entire time.  He never told me it was a lock, but I could feel his excitement.

I felt it when we were standing on the floor of Worthen Arena when James Whitford, the head basketball coach, was explaining why he fits their offense.

I felt it when we ordered Insomnia cookies to my dorm, while he was “wiping the floor” with me on the pool table. I just felt it.

I remember showing him around our Sports Link room and telling him how it won’t be long before we’re making highlight videos of his plays at Ball State.

Unfortunately, that never happened.  There was another video, however.

Before he was able to attend his first fall semester class, one of the most heart-breaking things happened.

Zach’s mom passed away due to an outbreak from ulcerative colitis. She lived with this disease for many years, but like all Hollywood’s she hid her pain well.

I wish everyone had the opportunity to meet Susan. She was full of happiness and seemed like a second mother to some of Zach’s friends. I can’t think of a better person to raise that fine young man.

Last year, Zach and I talked about a feature story on himself to portray their relationship.

That was the toughest piece to create, other than what you’re reading right now.

I interviewed his father, Scott, who I knew and talked to many times before.

Scott is an extremely sophisticated man who I was always fascinated by when he told stories.

That living room was a chamber of just about every emotion you can think of for those 45 minutes we were together.

The laughter of how he first met Susan. The excitement of watching his son play basketball. The sorrow of learning your wife is going to pass. The perseverance of battling through the aftermath. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Then there was Zach’s interview. One that feels like it was just the other day.

It was located in an open, two-floor room in a residence hall at Ball State.  Zach spoke for roughly seven minutes in the finished video, but the interview lasted two hours.

It all feels like it just happened. Zach struggling to keep his voice steady. Our camera operators with tears in their eyes. My brain not even thinking there were any cameras around. Just two friends talking about what was in his heart.

The gratitude of the video received from Zach and his family moved me to tears.

I don’t want to say exactly what he told me, but it was an emotional conversation to say the least.

I’m not one to cry. I wouldn’t say that I’m not emotional, but it’s rare that I get brought to tears. In fact, pretty much anytime I’ve cried in the past year was from the terrible tragedies Zach faced.

Zach Hollywood took his own life Tuesday morning.

I don’t believe I’m the only one who thinks this when I say, I should’ve done something. Perhaps the most depressing thing about life is that there is no rewind button. We will leave this life with missed opportunities and many mistakes.

But, I don’t believe that is what Zach meant for us to dwell on. Zach was a man who wanted to bring positive change to the world. He wanted to help the less fortunate and he wanted to be a friend to everyone. He traveled to camps to help with special needs students and I’m sure he left an impact on everyone he helped.

It took a few hours after learning about his death, but I finally saw the glimpse of light that Zach left us.

Somewhere out there, someone is thinking similar thoughts to what ran through Zach’s mind. Somewhere out there, there is at least one person who changed their mind after seeing the outpour of love to this man.

The school year was starting for students. Time was flying by. It was busy. And all of a sudden, different communities became one. Small problems became no problems. Hate became Love.

Zach had a message for us, and it was simple: Love.

With all the hate going on in our world, I hope we each take time to think about how we are all just one community living on this Earth. Companionship is the only way to survive.

Get past the awkwardness of interacting. Give a hug. Write a letter. Be a shoulder to cry on. It is not complicated. Just Love.

Each person has a different set of goals they are chasing. We get so caught up that our “life purpose” is to get our dream job and if we don’t do this or that, we won’t achieve our goals.

We stress ourselves out by putting so much pressure on ourselves. We get selfish. Our goals can’t be achieved individually, unless we work together. That’s the true nature of a sports team, of a business, of anything. That’s how it is in life, too.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American novelist, said it best:

“It contributes greatly towards a man’s moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.”

Thank you, Zach, for sharing to the world your relationship with your mother. Thank you for your friendship and compassion. I’ll miss your laughter and your smile, the one you always had when you talked about your family.

I’m honored to have known you throughout your life at home and here at Ball State. What a small world it is. I’ll never forget the impact you made on my life as a storyteller and as a friend to everyone else.

Rest in peace, my friend.


Author: Sports Link Staff

Sports Link showcases Cardinal student-athletes’ accomplishments on the field, in the classroom and within the surrounding community. Follow @bsusportslink on all social media platforms.

28 thoughts on “From A Friend: Zach Hollywood

  1. Thank you John……insight from the HEART!!! I was only a SUB at BBCHS…but I got involved with students & classes.
    I remember subbing for Mr R….and allowing you (or u telling me) would be doing the BEAT!!!
    Continued success to YOU!!
    John Heil

  2. Thanks John for sharing your heart! What a sad
    story of your friend Zach. My heart goes out to his family and friends!! Loved your willingness to be vulnerable .
    Love and prayers.❤️🙏🏻
    Micki Isacksen…… Mrs. i

  3. John Gordon, I am so proud to be your cousin! What you just wrote about your friend, though absolutely heartbreaking, is unbelievably beautiful and true! There is always an unspoken message with suicide…listen and hear what Zach was whispering to the world!

  4. After Mr. Hollywood, you were the first person I thought of yesterday, late afternoon, when I heard about Zach. Your words filled my eyes with tears but more importantly, filled my heart with love. I know you loved Zach Hollywood. He is in our hearts today, he is in your heart, always. Thank you for sharing Zach with us. May he be at peace.

    Katie Bates

  5. John Gordon, thanks for this wonderful piece. I know it wasn’t easy but I appreciate your willingness to openyourself up…well done. Praying for you and all of those BBCHS guys now at Ball State. Mrs. Wadley

  6. I am zachs great aunt. once again you bring tears to my eyes when I didn’t think I had anymore to cry. thank you for being there for zach. thank you for that loving video about him and Susie. please pray for our family and especially scoyt. thank you

  7. Proud of you, John Gordon. My thoughts and prayers are with the Ball State and BBCHS communities. We can always do a better job loving our neighbor. Thank you for being willing to open yourself up and giving this message. Mrs. Fightmaster

  8. Very well written and a wonderful tribute. As someone who has suffered that kind of depression as he had , my heart breaks for him, his friends and family but as a father now of a son who also is suffering from depression brought on by the rigors of med school it really hits home and my heart breaks for his dad. I don’t know how be makes it through this. Losing a spouse is one thing but a child is quite another. I didn’t realize this until I became a father. The thought of losing my own son is unimagionable. I don’t think I would have the strength to carry on. At this stage in life I suffer from a health problem that gives me severe body pain for 24 hours a day. Those bad thoughts have crossed my mind again but my own parents are both still alive. I know what kind of pain it would bring to them if I acted on those thoughts when I am alone at night with my pain. So I push through each day. It isn’t easy by a long shot. But at your friend’s age I somehow couldn’t see that. Only the dream of having my own son kept me alive on those bad days at KCC , EIU, and finally U of I. So I don’t blame him for his decision. I just am terribly sad that it got the best of him and that he couldn’t use the dreams that his own patents had for his future as a focal point to push through. You see when as a young person when we say it is our lives and our decisions we are in a bubble and we really don’t get that our decisions strongly affect all those that love us. Not for a week or a month or a year but for the rest of their lives. I wish he could have seen that. As guys we really din’t have friends we can talk to about the intimate detaiks of our lives as girls often do unless they have put up walls due to depression. We are left stewing in those thoughts when we are alone and when the lights go off. We are consumed by them daily and they are with us like a demon on our shoulders even as we try hard and valiantly to do our reading for classes and go through the motions of life. They get the better of some of us. Too many of us. May he rest in peace and may God grant you and his family some measure of peace and hope as you live with this. Your pain and I assume the feelings of guilt of many won’t go away. Life will be spent second guessing what could have been done to help him. Those thoughts are only productive and of use if you can put them to use in efforts to save others. God Bless and rest in peace the boy that could have been me or my own son.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. The world lost a truly beautiful soul but heaven gained an angel.

  10. Thank you for your heartfelt tribute. Students, please know there are counselors available on campus to talk to you. Please reach out if you are in pain — you are all so precious!

  11. Very well written, from your heart. It is the thoughts and feeling of many in he communities of BBCHS and Ball State. So True: be kind, compassionate, and just LOVE! So proud of you John Gordon! Prayers for you all!

  12. John, another wonderful job…It’s touching to see this side of you . I will be praying for you and all the family and friends that knew this wonderful young man. Love and prayers, Kim Schultz

  13. All I can say is WOW. What a testimony for a great young man. Thank You.

  14. Beautifully written. My heart breaks for his family, friends and the Ball State community. ‘

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful tribute. I had the honor of knowing Scott & Susan. I met Zac through business but my impression of him was that he was a very special young man. I am truly saddened by this loss & my heart goes out to Scott during this very difficult time. Love & prayers for all.

  16. I read your story and watched your video tribute. You have a gift. You captured their emotions, all of them. May God put his hands around Scott during this unimaginable grief. May Zach and his mother’s memories be eternal. Thank you for sharing.

  17. I don’t know Zach, but this article left me in tears anyway. My prayers are with his father and his friends, all who are mourning the loss of this gifted young man.

  18. Prayers for him and his family and for all that knew
    Him. What a heart felt contribute!
    God bless!

  19. I watched the Sports Link story Tuesday evening and just read your heartfelt tribute to your friend. Both brought me to tears and made me proud to be a Ball State alum. My thoughts and prayers are with Zach’s family and friends during this incredibly difficult time.

  20. You make me proud to be a fellow chirp chirp. What a great story and thanks for sharing. Such a great and wonderful man and such a huge loss for Ball State and the world. Zach was a great ambassador for loving one another and having a huge heart. Rest easy my friend and John thanks again for sharing this and sorry for the loss of a great friend.

  21. John, I do not know you or this family, but my heart was touched by your written words and that amazing video. Sadly there are no good answers to the devastation of this level of loss. Thanks for sharing and spreading the message that we need to love more and be mindful of other’s struggles. Blessings to Zach’s family, you, and the Ball State community.

  22. Oh what a beautiful story you did. My heart is broken for you, Zach’s dad and all of his friends. Know that he is with his mom in a better place. Prayers for all of you.

  23. Beautifully spoken…I too suffer and contemplate from the minute I open my eyes till the minute I drift off to sleep…been this way since I was 15, am now 55…it’s a very hard struggle…RIH Zack

  24. Being from Muncie, Indiana and now living in Kentucky, I was deeply saddened to hear of this tragedy at Ball State. I am praying for Zach’s father during this difficult time. First, losing a spouse and now, a child. This was definitely a beautil tribute to your friend.

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