Andrew Barlas, Justin Doran, Carson Wessinger, Bradley Fassele, unknown, Andres Lerea and Aspen Moore.
By Ken Dunham
St. John Tradewinds
Parents on St. John have complained for decades about the lack of extracurricular opportunities for their children on the island.
Legitimate or illegitimate complaint, many of those parents have used the argument as justification to relocate back to the mainland. Today, opportunities not only exist, but as six boys are proving, St. John students can thrive from those opportunities.
Four years ago all six boys were competing in the American Legion Post #131 flag football league on the V.I. National Park ball field in Cruz Bay.
Carson Wessinger was the quarterback of the Green team, Andres Lerea was the center of the Yellow team, Justin Doran was the quarterback on the Yellow team, Aspen Moore was the quarterback of the Black team, Bradley Fassele was a running back on the Red team and Andrew Barlas was a lineman on the Blue team.
All six boys were competing for a championship. All six boys were also practicing three days each week, playing a game every Saturday, learning the meaning of what a team is and allowing coaches to teach them about sacrifice.
All six boys played in an American Legion championship game. They learned on a St. John field, from St. John residents, what it took to be champions at an early age. They were taught that opportunity would only come with sacrifice.
Last year, Shaiman and Isaac Laliach, also former American Legion players, convinced Wessinger to join the Arawak’s football team on St. Thomas. The Arawak’s football team is comprised of students from private schools on St. Thomas and St. John. The team plays in the IAA and competes against all public schools.
Shortly into the season, both Laliach brothers suffered season-ending injuries. Their misfortune left Wessinger as the only St. John student on the team. Since practice is at Antilles School every afternoon at 4 p.m., Wessinger had to “hitch” daily from Gifft Hill School to catch the 3 p.m. ferry to St. Thomas.
Once on St. Thomas he had to find a ride or pay a taxi to take him to Antilles School for practice. After practice, in the dark, he would have to find a ride back to the ferry. Wessinger usually took the 7 and sometimes even the 8 p.m. ferry home.
Three games into the season, the senior quarterback of the Arawak’s team also went down with an injury. Wessinger’s consistent sacrifice turned into an opportunity. He stepped in and has never looked back.
The team was two seconds from going to the championship game last year but lost on a “hail mary” pass. When the season ended, however, the first thing that Wessinger said was, “next year we are winning the championship!”
The second thing he said was, “where are my St. John teammates?”
Today, the six teammates from St. John hitch, find a ride, or the school transports them to town every afternoon from GHS to catch the ferry. Once on St. Thomas, an amazing parent, Sally Driscoll, co-owner of Randy’s Bistro, picks the boys up and takes them to Antilles.
The six boys suited up last Saturday night in Arawak’s uniforms united by purpose. The six boys are setting the example for all other student athletes coming behind them from St. John.
The six boys stood on the sideline after their victory Saturday night and gave each other hugs and high fives, recognizing that no one on the field understood their sacrifice, except them.
Their opportunity had come with sacrifice.