St. Charles community celebrates life of Justin Hardy

  • Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East and Washington University basketball player, is pictured at the Saints' Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor in February. Hardy passed away from stomach cancer on May 29.

    Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East and Washington University basketball player, is pictured at the Saints' Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor in February. Hardy passed away from stomach cancer on May 29. Sandy Bressner/ sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, is presented with the Jodie Harrison Lifetime Achievement Award from Kane County Chief Judge Clint Hull during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment.

    Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, is presented with the Jodie Harrison Lifetime Achievement Award from Kane County Chief Judge Clint Hull during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment. Sandy Bressner/ sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, hugs his dad, Bob, during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment.

    Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, hugs his dad, Bob, during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment. Sandy Bressner/ sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, addresses the crowd during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment.

    Justin Hardy, a former St. Charles East four-year varsity basketball player and current player for Washington University in St. Louis, addresses the crowd during a Hoops for Hope game in Hardy's honor against Geneva in St. Charles Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardy was diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer last April and continues to play basketball while undergoing treatment. Sandy Bressner/ sbressner@shawmedia.com

  • Justin Hardy played four years of varsity basketball at St. Charles East including this sectional game in Rockford.

      Justin Hardy played four years of varsity basketball at St. Charles East including this sectional game in Rockford. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/8/2022 8:07 AM

Justin Hardy had a front-row seat.

Featured prominently on the stage was his collegiate No. 12 Washington University basketball jersey draped on a chair facing hundreds in attendance for his life celebration on Friday in the St. Charles East main gym. It was the very place that Hardy made memories on the basketball court one might not soon, or ever, forget.

 

Three months ago, Hardy's words echoed from center court addressing a crowd to thank them for their support.

It was the St. Charles community's turn Friday to thank him.

Hardy, the former St. Charles East basketball star who inspired countless during his 13-month battle with Stage IV stomach cancer, died on Sunday, May 29.

Five days later was the celebration he requested. Attendees donned their favorite sports apparel, laughing -- and perhaps some tears -- remembering everything that made Hardy, well, Hardy.

Pictures of Justin Hardy prior to a homecoming dance, on the beach or posing with CBS-TV broadcaster Jim Nantz cycled in the background.

On each seat, a commemorative card was placed. Justin's familiar larger-than-life smile sat front-and-center.

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The cookies and refreshments Justin wanted sat on a table in the very back.

Jackie Hardy, his sister, was among a number of speakers that included Circuit Court Judge and St. Charles lifer, Clint Hull; St. Charles East boys varsity basketball coach Pat Woods; Hardy's former basketball trainer and mentor, Chris Conrad; former Wash-U teammate, Jon Arenas; Wash-U head coach, Pat Juckem; and Hardy's close friends from college, Gabbie Cesarone, Emily Kaufman, Kally Wendler and David Windley.

Jackie Hardy began by sharing an interview question posed to her from an ESPN producer during the filming of his national feature story.

"'Do you think someone so young could have a legacy?'" Jackie Hardy repeated. "'If so, what do you think Justin's legacy is?'".

Hardy, chuckling, asked back: "How can I pick just one thing?"

Jackie Hardy revealed she discussed her eventual speech with Justin himself: Originally, the 32 legacies of Justin Hardy -- a nod toward his longtime uniform number.

Jackie Hardy outlined 12 legacies of her brother.

Do the things you love with deep and immense passion.

Stay innovative.

March Madness, Webkinz stuffed animal and more brackets are an essential for daily life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Never back down, even when things are tough.

Believe in yourself. Believe that you are the greatest.

Stay humble.

The role that authenticity plays in building relationships.

Don't shy away from trying new things.

Be genuinely proud of yourself.

Be a friend who feels like family. And a family member who feels like a friend.

Exemplify the difference between existing and living.

Live with the intention of being 'Hardy Strong.'

"Justin is the perfect example of the difference between existing and living," Jackie Hardy said. "Existing is when life happens to us. Living is when we happen to life. Justin lived."

"Whether it was his deep friendship or just hearing his story, he happened to all of our lives," she continued. "He touched our hearts. Made us stronger. Made us more positive, compassionate and vivacious individuals. And, because of the impact that Justin had on this world, he will always be living."

Hardy was named to the St. Charles East Hall of Fame in February. He was also awarded the Perry Wallace Courage recognition by the United States Basketball Writers Association.

Hardy's No. 32 St. Charles East jersey will continue to be worn in the future, Woods confirmed in his reflections.

Hardy helped establish the specific criteria for the next series of individuals who will wear it. Selfless, disciplined, competitive, winner, passionate, academic excellence, positive, genuine, communicator and accountable.

Woods shared a little-known story following Hardy's first career buzzer-beater to defeat St. Charles North his junior season. A student who has special needs stopped outside a classroom immediately after the game.

The student, who was an Illinois Special Olympics participant, told Justin how excited he was Hardy was going to play against his team in a few weeks. The St. Charles East girls and boys varsity teams scrimmage against the ISO team, coined 'The Big Game'.

"Justin quickly and seamlessly replied: 'No, Danny. I'm excited to play against you in a few weeks,'" Woods recalled. "'The Big Game' is one of my favorite games of the year. He also followed up with: I'll be at your practice next week. I can't wait to see you play.'"

Conrad shared stories of their spontaneous road trips and their final interaction.

Arenas, Hardy's former collegiate teammate, spoke on Hardy's recruitment visit to Wash-U.

"Right away, we knew Justin could help us win," Arenas said. "We wanted to show him a good time and give him a night to remember. When he arrived the first thing you noticed was his contagious smile that we all know. He had a way of making people feel warm, safe and energetic."

Juckem discussed the 'Five tools of Justin.'

The Student: Hardy graduated a semester early from their business school, with a double-major, and had high honors. "A calculus savant."

The Player: "We called Hardy [Golden State Warriors forward] Draymond Green "with a jump shot. [Hardy] unlocked everyone else."

The Teammate: "God, he loved his teammates ... we heard stories from our players this year. One said: "I haven't had a handwritten note in years. Justin wrote me a note this year."

The Human: Post diagnosis, Juckem said, "[Justin said] 'I'm going to be relentlessly positive."

The Legacy: "In the game, we talk about leaving the jersey, the program better than you found it. There's no question any jersey, any team, any organization, anyone that was ever his orbit ... is far better because of it."

Hardy's friends' personal moments ranging from talks at the kitchen table during a storm or final interactions.

Zac Matheny, Hardy's high school basketball teammate, concluded the event with a prayer. Jack Nolan opened with one.

After 90 minutes of tributes and thousands of spoken words, perhaps it's simply best to let Hardy finish his own story, in his own words.

"You write your story," Hardy once said. "From opening cover to the very last page ... go out there and defy the odds."

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