Lander University student Melissa Wessinger is considered an angel by a group of disabled children and adults in Greenwood for organizing a basketball program for them earlier this year. Now, she is hoping to attract another angel willing to provide some financial support to help her continue and expand the program.
Wessinger, a sophomore special education major from Lexington, got the idea for the basketball program from her mother, Maggie Wessinger, who has run a league for the disabled at Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington for several years. It has 50 to 60 members including Melissa's 15-year-old brother, Jesse, who is a Special Olympics athlete.
First, she arranged with Main Street United Methodist Church in Greenwood to use its gym. Then, she met with organizers of The Miracle League of Greenwood, a baseball program for disabled children and young adults. With the group's help, she contacted players and parents to find out who might be interested in a basketball league.
Seven individuals replied, two females and five males, fewer than the number she needed to form two teams, but Wessinger was not discouraged. She got the group together for practice sessions on Thursdays, and organized four-on-three games on Saturdays.
To help her manage the program, she recruited four other Lander students who did not have basketball experience. "I had to teach the athletes and my coaches," she said. Wessinger, on the other hand, had played basketball for her church in Lexington.
Two of her assistants are her roommates Meghan Barfield, a former classmate at Lexington High School, and Hannah Snipes of Mauldin. She also recruited Lauren Addy, another Lexington High classmate, and Jessica Bouchea of Simpsonville. Barfield, Snipes, Addy and Bouchea are nursing students at Lander.
Wessinger has worked at Camp Spearhead for special needs clients in Greenville County and, last summer, in a special needs recreational program in Greenwood. It was at that camp that she met Kyle Burgin, 20, who was the first to express interest in joining her basketball league.
His mother, Terri, was impressed with Wessinger's initiative. She said, "Melissa provided a form of social interaction that is not available from other agencies," and added that Kyle wants to enroll in the program when it is offered again.
In a message to Lander president Daniel Ball, Terri Burgin said, "Melissa saw a need and sought to fill it. You have no idea what that means to those of us with kids with special needs. To have someone take an interest in our children is so encouraging and heartwarming."
Wessinger said, "It's a chance for me to give them something they deserve. They grew from the experience."
This year, parents donated $15 each, which Wessinger spent to buy team shirts and trophies that were awarded to all seven players, and for an end-of-the-season party. She said her mother persuaded their church in Lexington to make up the difference between what she received in donations and expenses.
She plans to start the league earlier in the coming basketball season and hopes to recruit more players. It would be helpful, she said, if individuals or companies would come forward to provide financial support to help underwrite costs associated with the league.
Wessinger can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.