COLUMBUS, Ohio — Days before Olentangy Liberty started its basketball season, the players gathered in the gym to check out their new senior pictures hanging on the wall. Wesley Walters, the team manager, did not see a photo of himself on the wall. So Wesley went and asked head coach Greg Nossaman about it. Nossaman told Wesley he’d simply forgotten he was a senior. The coach then immediately made a call to the photographer and a day later Walters’ photo hung proudly next to the players. Wesley earned it.
He serves as the team manager for one of the better programs in central Ohio. Bonding with the basketball players is just one of the ways Wesley has grown into a popular figure around school. He’s also a percussionist in the high school band.
Wesley does all this despite having autism. He was diagnosed as a young boy but he was able to enroll in typical schools. He was different, socially, than the other kids at school. His friends say Wesley had his struggles growing up with making friends and feeling included. But Walters found basketball as a way to connect with people. He did not play on any teams but he does enjoy shooting and rebounding for the players. He began as a team manager in middle school and then served that role throughout his high school career.
His teammates say they’ve learned as much from Wesley as he’s learned from them. They sit together in the back of the bus for road games (the last 3 rows are reserved for seniors and Wesley sits with whoever he chooses). Wesley often borrows their phones to play a game or teach them about one of his favorite shows, Thomas and Friends. He’s assigned nicknames for all the players on the team based on characters from the show.
And then there’s Wesley’s pre-game (and in-game) motivational speeches. He tells the players about toughness and hard work. They say if Wesley can get so wrapped up in the game they try to make sure he gets to celebrate a win with them.
Saturday, Wesley joined his fellow seniors for their senior night where each player was introduced to the crowd. Wesley was announced last. He drew big cheers from his teammates and fellow students. His parents say it was a proud moment in their lives.
Wesley will graduate this spring and he hopes to attend college. He says he’ll miss being around the team everyday but says he’ll come back to visit.