West Salem, Wis. (WXOW) Starting on the day students enroll at West Salem High School, they are brainstorming what to do for their senior exit project. For Joe Wopat, he organized an event that meant a lot more than just a passing grade.
Joe didn’t decide on his project until the end of junior year when he looked back on his athletic career, and realized just how lucky he was to be the quarterback of the West Salem football team.
“Well just playing sports and varsity sports, there’s always a really cool atmosphere like at football games and wrestling meets and stuff, so I kind of wanted to create that for children and people who don’t always get that opportunity all the time,” Wopat said.
That’s when he settled on wheelchair basketball.
“I saw them playing and only parents in the crowd, not very many people there, and I just thought about how lucky I am to like have a crowd cheering and people paying to watch you play,” Wopat said.
Joe went above and beyond to make everyone feel special providing players with t-shirts and personal introductions into the game. He also brought an audience full of cheers, smiles, and support.
Abby Lendosky was the star of the show, a fourth grader who has a diagnosis of Spina Bifida, but a specialty in wheelchair basketball.
“The effect it has for them is amazing,” Abby’s mom Melanie Lendosky said. ” From a self confidence perspective, and just fitting in again with kids that are similar to them, that’s the biggest difference I’ve seen probably in my daughter.”
Joe also included local celebrities, such as radio hosts, UW-La crosse football players, and the West Salem Head Football Coach.
“I’m thrilled to be apart of it, and really just supporting him and his endeavors here,” West Salem Head Coach Justin Jehn said.
Joe’s efforts to create a positive experience for athletes with disabilities does not stop with just his senior project.
“I mean it’s been something that’s been really special to me, and especially after going through it once, it might be something that I want to pursue in the future as well, and just helping people in general, I really like doing that,” Wopat said.
It was never about the grade for Joe, but in my book it was an A+.