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LENEXA, Kan. — Due to COVID-19, many high schools are not celebrating National Signing Day for students athletes who are committed to playing sports in college.

One local family had a celebration of their own because they said this day almost didn’t happen.

Eighteen-year-old Brennan Connell sat at a table draped with a Fort Hayes State flag and behind him gold and black balloons. Surrounded by his family, the baseball pitcher signed his commitment letter to play baseball for the Tigers.

“I thought it would be a little different than it was, but I’m just glad to be here right now,” Connell said.

Two years ago, Connell, who was pitching for Olathe West, was on a hot streak. He had thrown two balls and two strikes to one of the best players from Blue Valley Southwest when he collapsed on the mound.

“I had a sudden cardiac arrest, which means, it’s like a light switch which is on at one point and then everything just shuts down,” Connell said.

Sitting behind home plate, Connell’s dad Brian rushed to his son, who he said was clinically dead, until a nurse at the game used an A.E.D. to restart his heart.

“Faith comes in in the hardest of times,” the older Connell said. “It’s still emotional now but you know God has a plan.”

During his two weeks in Children’s Mercy Hospital, much of which was touch and go, Connell told his dad one thing.

“He said I wanna play. I wanna play sports again,” Brian Connell recalled.

Brennan said he feels great now and has worked very hard to be where he is today. Rehab, working out, eating healthy, doing what he needed to do to rebuild his body and protect his heart. Friends and family watched his fight.

At Fort Hays State, Connell will be taking a defibrillator implanted in his body. Doctors don’t know what caused his heart to stop, but if it does again, it will be there to protect him.

“It’s a dream come true,” Connell said. “Every kid dreams about going to the to college for the sport they love.”

The Connells have become advocates for heart checks and urge all families to request a heart screening as part of student athletes’ sports physicals. To find out where to go, log on to