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Special night at LaGrange

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It was a special night in the old gym.

The second St. Jude’s Charity Wheelchair Basketball Game was held on Thursday in the LaGrange High gymnasium.

Members of the West Georgia Wolverines, a competitive team based out of Warm Springs, played faculty members at LaGrange High.

With LaGrange High athletics director Mike Pauley serving as the enthusiastic master of ceremonies, the teams went at it for about an hour, and the action was fast-paced, and a few players even found themselves on the floor after taking a hard shot from another wheelchair.

When it was done, everyone was all smiles, and the dozens of competitors gathered on the floor for a group photo.

The game was played in honor of Alyssa Hope Shirey, who died in 2017 at the age of 13.

During her illness, Alyssa spent a few months being treated at St. Jude’s Hospital.

Logan Wegienka, a LaGrange High student and a member of the Wolverines, was close to the Shirey family including LaGrange High graduate Kane Shirey, and he wanted to do something to honor Alyssa’s memory.

Last year, he helped organized the first charity wheelchair basketball game at LaGrange, and he’s grateful that the event returned for a second year.

“All the support that I got for doing this, especially last year when I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, means so much,” Wegienka said. “I’m like the Grinch. It makes my heart grow two sizes. It’s amazing.”

Donations were accepted on Alyssa’s behalf for St. Jude’s.

“This is what this started out as is a fund-raiser for Alysaa, and that’s what it’ll continue to be,” Wegienka said.

Among the faculty members who participated in the game was LaGrange High graduate Solomon Whitfield, and he was happy to see the wheelchair athletes, a handful of whom are from LaGrange, get an opportunity to take center stage.

“I think it’s really cool that everybody gets the same opportunity,” Whitfield said. “We go to a football game, or a baseball game, and they get to have their time in the spotlight and enjoy it.”

Whitfield has immense respect for what the wheelchair athletes are able to do.

“It’s hard being in that wheelchair all the time,” Whitfield said. “I rode it in all day. You really find out how much strength you have to have.”

Wegienka, who lost the use of his legs in a car accident more than a decade ago, has thrived as a wheelchair athlete, winning state championship in multiple sports as a member of the Wolverines. Wegienka plays basketball, handball, and football for the Wolverines, and he’s grateful for the outlet wheelchair sports have provided.

“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.”

OF NOTE: For more photos, check out Facebook.com/LDNSports