From a cancer-stricken teenager to the family of a deceased ex-teammate, BYU baseball’s Hayden Leatham strives to serve others
Cougars’ star outfielder wears No. 10 to honor a fallen friend, collects BYU gear and signatures on a baseball to send to teenager and big BYU fan Carly Allphin, who is battling bone cancer for the second time in his hometown of Rexburg, Idaho
PROVO — For a few moments on March 12 after the college baseball season had been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, BYU outfielder Hayden Leatham felt sorry for himself and his teammates. A lot of guys in the clubhouse at Miller Park were brought to tears when coach Mike Littlewood delivered the news that their season was over.
“It was an emotional experience,” said Leatham, who started in all 16 games for the 7-9 Cougars before his junior year was cut short. “Everyone was pretty shocked. It hurt a lot. It was hard because we put in so much time in the fall and in the spring preparing for our season, because we knew we had so much there, so much talent, and then all of a sudden it was just gone.”
Then Leatham, 21, the two-time Scenic West Athletic Conference Player of the Year at the College of Southern Idaho before transferring to BYU last fall, remembered what some of his friends back home in Idaho were going through, and he quickly regained the perspective he said will fuel him to turn his own minor setback into a positive one.
Serving those less fortunate than him has been important to Leatham since the three-sport star began putting on football, baseball and basketball jerseys at Madison High in Rexburg, Idaho. He grew up on a farm in nearby Hibbard and recently returned home to train at a fitness center in Rigby called The Alley when BYU put all its classes online.
“The reason why service is so important to me is because I believe that athletes especially have such a big platform to make a difference in the lives of other people. That has always been really important to me throughout my life, to use my platform for good.” — BYU baseball player Hayden Leatham
“The reason why service is so important to me is because I believe that athletes especially have such a big platform to make a difference in the lives of other people,” Leatham said. “That has always been really important to me throughout my life, to use my platform for good. It kinda started in high school, then carried over to CSI in Twin Falls. … I love being able to make a difference in the lives of people who just don’t have as much, people who dream of being in the position that we are in as athletes.”
When Leatham, who is majoring in exercise and wellness, heard about the plight of one of his former classmates at Madison High, he jumped into action.
Carly Allphin, a senior who has been accepted into BYU, is battling bone cancer for the second time. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ewing Sarcoma in her spine, hips and pelvis when she was 14 but beat it after 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 72 radiation treatments, according to an article in the school newspaper, the Bobcat Beat.
But the cancer returned with a vengeance in 2019, her mother wrote on a Facebook page called Carly’s Courage, and the outlook this time is bleak.
Leatham found out through his own family that Carly Allphin and her family were “super crazy big BYU fans,” so he put together a care package for her with a baseball signed by all his teammates and coaches, a Minky Couture blanket and other BYU gear and had it sent to her home in Rexburg.
“I think it is just something little that could go a really long ways for her,” Leatham said. “She’s having a really hard time.”
When he was at CSI, Leatham and his teammates invited Jacob Bottinger, a youngster who has muscular dystrophy, to be an honorary member of the team and had an intrasquad scrimmage to raise awareness and money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“I have been taught to always look for ways that I can make a difference,” Leatham said.
At CSI, where he was also a two-time NJCAA All-Academic selection and led the team to a third-place finish in the 2018 NJCAA World Series, he chose No. 10 to honor former Madison High baseball teammate Matthew Bolingbroke, who wore that number before he died unexpectedly on July 24, 2017.
“His dream was to always play at BYU,” Leatham said. “He actually wore No. 10 — so that has always been a big part of coming to BYU for me, and the reason I wear No. 10 still today.”
BYU baseball coach Mike Littlewood predicted big things when the Cougars landed Leatham back in November 2018, saying the slugger “has a big-time bat that we expect to be a middle-of-the-order-type guy for us.”
Leatham was not heavily recruited out of high school, partly because he didn’t specialize in just baseball and also because chilly Rexburg isn’t known as a baseball talent hotbed. But scouts flocked to CSI, a natonal power in juco ball, after his outstanding freshman season there and BYU was able to get him over offers from Utah, Houston, Gonzaga, Grand Canyon and others.
Although the Cougars were below .500 when everything got called off, Leatham says they were on their way to big things. They were hours away from opening West Coast Conference play against Loyola Marymount when it was all taken away.
“We had so much untapped potential,” Leatham said. “We would show flashes of being really good, and then we just didn’t put it all together. We played some really tough teams, and we had some big wins against Gonzaga and Oregon State. Things were looking good for conference.”
Leatham is eligible to be taken in June’s Major League Baseball draft, which could be reduced to only 10 rounds, but he’s almost certain he will be back in Provo when the pandemic ends and things get back to normal.
He called it a “special place” where athletes are taught to be well-rounded and not just think of themselves.
“My freshman year, in the fall, we played at BYU (in exhibition games) and I remember thinking I wanted to end up going there,” he said. “It just felt right, and after I came on my official visit, I knew it was the place for me. It gave me every opportunity that I needed.”
And a place where he could continue his legacy of service.