Special night in LaGrange gym
Published 12:04 am Friday, March 23, 2018
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The echoing sound of basketballs colliding with the wood floor was the same one that’s been heard so often over the years in LaGrange High’s gymnasium.
While the sound may have been familiar, Thursday’s game that was held in the old gym had a different feel to it, with each of the 20 or so participants confined to a wheelchair.
On one side were the West Georgia Wolverines, a competitive wheelchair team that trains at the Roosevelt Institute in Warm Springs.
Opposing the Wolverines was a team composed of members of the LaGrange High faculty, who found out first-hand how challenging wheelchair basketball can be.
The game was organized by Logan Wegienka, a LaGrange High student who is a long-time member of the Wolverines.
Wegienka wanted to have the game for a few reasons.
He felt it would be educational for people to see what wheelchair basketball is all about, and how competitive it is and how skilled the athletes are.
Primarily, though, Wegienka wanted it to be a fund-raiser, with money raised during the event going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Wegienka said the game was in honor of Alyssa Hope Shirey, who died last April at the age of 13.
During her illness, Alyssa spent a few months being treated at St. Jude’s Hospital
“This little girl right here is the main reason,” said Wegienka while holding a photo of Alyssa.
Alyssa was the sister of former LaGrange High student Kane Shirey, who was a standout wrestler at the school.
Wegienka is a life-long friend of Shirey’s, so he knew Alyssa well.
With the family in mind, Wegienka asked his good friend to be an honorary member of the Wolverines for the night.
“I’ve known him since he was born,” Kane Shirey said. “And this was all him. He’s been telling me that he’s been getting it together, and he wanted me to play in it. The whole thing was his idea.”
The teams played two halves, and it was the Wolverines pulling away in the second half for the win.
Wegienka was grateful for the opportunity to play in his home gym and give people a taste of what competitive wheelchair sports are all about.
“We wanted to raise money, but one of our main goals was to kind of get the word out, and show people what it’s actually like,” he said.
Shirey enjoyed the opportunity to play alongside his friend.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I’ve been to the practices with them a couple of times. It’s really fun doing that. It was a great time.”
Richard McIntyre, the coach of the Wolverines, led his team during Thursday’s exhibition game, and he enjoyed watching Wegienka and the other players in a relaxed format.
“It was good to not have the pressure, and just have fun,” said McIntyre, the team’s coach since 2001.
As for the players on the other side, McIntyre figures some of them might soon be feeling the effects from the game.
“I would think that the ones that were really pushing will be aching tomorrow,” he said.
Wegienka is a multi-sport athlete with the Wolverines.
He also plays football and handball, and he’s been a part of numerous state-championship teams over the years.
Late last year, in fact, Wegienka and Troup High student Mason McCartney helped the Wolverines win a handball state championship.
Last basketball season, the Wolverines came up just short in their quest to win a state title, and they’re chasing a championship in football right now.
Wegienka was injured in a car accident more than 10 years ago, and he’s been confined to a wheelchair since then.
Not long after the accident, Wegienka began participating in wheelchair sports, and he has thrived.
Wegienka has developed into a leader for the Wolverines, and he is a team captain.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” Wegienka said of the opportunity to play competitive sports. “I told my mom I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t been playing sports. It’s made it to where I don’t just sit around thinking about it. It’s made it to where I’m active.”
Wegienka and his teammates on the Wolverines were all dealt tough blows, but as they showed Thursday night, they’ve met their challenges head on.
“I’ve always tried to look at it as God has put me in this situation for a reason,” Wegienka said. “Moping around is not going to fix anything. I’ve always tried to lead my life as normal as I can.”