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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.


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