by Doug Comer
A little over a year ago we lost a valuable person to our Parks and Recreation program. Jeff Wetzel, who dedicated his work and life to making kids smile through his passion of sports and enrichments, donated countless hours of time to making sure that every child had an opportunity to compete at any level.
One of his programs is the Challenger Basketball league, who he partnered with Mary Jo Demarco three seasons ago. And during his funeral, Demarco vowed to continue the league in memory of Wetzel through the continuation of the league.
“We are very passionate about the Challenger League and the purpose behind it,” said Demarco. “We renamed the league the Jeff Wetzel Challenger League in honor of a friend that all of us loved here at Parks and Rec. And after the first year, we have grown the league to double in size.”
Challenger basketball is a league where people who fall under the special population umbrella can come and compete in hoops. Playing games in this setting is not like any other sporting event that you will ever attend. You will not hear that one fan who feels that his $5 ticket warrants a verbal slamming of the referees nor will you hear one ill word about either team. It is a positive and exciting atmosphere that was set from moment one as Demarco explains.
“The energy is so positive that you cannot help but feel overjoyed by what these athletes are doing out on the court. We have kids that fight mental challenges and those with physical disabilities yet, when they are on the court, you see some of the greatest athletes with heart that those in the college or professional rankings cannot touch.”
While the challenges in life that these athletes face on a daily basis are such an uphill battle, that hour where they have the chance to showcase the talent they possess on the court is an escape from the day-to-day lifestyle. I have attended games where there was not a dry eye in the place. A person could score a basket and the true joy that is shown, not only the person that scored, but EVERYONE on the court cheers in support. It is one that we are proud to be a part of and we are extremely pleased in Demarco’s passion to continue the league.
“Mary Jo (Demarco) is in her surroundings with this league. She is educated to make this successful and her support staff is backing her up 100 percent,” said Director Mike Book. “When Mary Jo and Jeff (Wetzel) approached us about a league, we knew it would be a success from the moment we told them to go for it. We wanted something that stretched out to another quadrant that we wanted to be included and challenger sports was just where we wanted to be.”
The league plays on Saturdays in Shinnston at the Lighthouse Recreation Complex and there are two games played. With four teams in the league and over 50 players participating from kids throughout the area, the league is funded through the help of the County Commission as well as sponsors from local businesses. And it is with help of volunteers, businesses and the church that we have built a foundation of success with the league.
“We have an infinite amount of supporters that is happy to lend a hand in any way with our league. The city of Shinnston opened its arms to our program and helped in its success. We look forward to a continuance of these as our program grows to higher levels through the dedication of its supporters,” said Demarco.