ASHTON — This is a story about how one young man changed a community because of his strength and perseverance but for every great story there is a backstory.
It started in the early part of the 2007 school year at Ashton Elementary. My dad, Tiger Wilson, was coaching the Ashton Bulldogs’ fifth grade basketball team for the Point Pleasant Biddy League and had had great success for the previous two years. Some “new kid” by the name of Paul Holley had signed up to play basketball for the very first time and dad picked him for his team. He would wear the number 11. Little did we know, as fans and family, the hidden talent Paul had to play the sport.
The next season Ashton had the two best teams in the Point Pleasant Biddy League. What an in school rivalry that thrived throughout the season with my dad wearing the grey and Larry Gibbs wearing purple. The two teams met each other in the championship game that season with the Gibbs-coached team winning out in a quadruple overtime game even after dad’s team had played several games that day to get to there. However, these teams would meet each other in various tournaments with Gibbs always prevailing. These two teams produced some of the best athletes, including Noah Morgan, Brian and Bradley Gibbs, Jeremy Tate who would attend Point Pleasant while Adam Wilson, Tyler Burns, Cole Poore, Charles Mayes, Zac Camp, Shawnathon Scarberry and of course Paul who attended Hannan.
Paul became a very important part of the team’s success - going from not really knowing the sport to becoming one of the leaders on the team. As the season came to a close we started wondering how this group of special players would compete against other much larger schools.
The next season John McClung and my dad coached the team and there were severe growing pains resulting in having the worst season. The team grew closer and became stronger for their eighth grade year. The team’s favorite win that season was beating in-county rival Wahama. The team became the most successful team that year at Hannan and were packing the gym for every game they played. The success reminded me of the crowds the Magnificent Seven packed into the gym at Hannan in the early part of the 21st Century.
The next season the team moved up to the Single A ranks of basketball in what many consider the toughest region for basketball in the state. Very few freshmen made the cut for varsity but one was Paul Holley. By this time he had become a more consistent shooter, rebounder and all around better player. On most nights for the next two seasons he became the leading scorer for the Wildcats often sharing that honor with fellow Sophomore Tyler Burns.
Fast-forward to this past season, the team struggled to win just three games but the JV beat the JV from Huntington’s Saint Joe, a perennial basketball power. In January the team got the news that a senior captain had been diagnosed with a tumor on the brain and everyone in the community rallied around him. As the season was winding down they realized as a whole they had to change a lot to find the success they once knew.
Everything stopped on the cold rainy night of February 27, 2013 when Paul and Joseph Cupp were in a horrible truck accident. Paul was driving his 1971 Chevy Pickup when he lost control in a sharp turn less than a mile from his home following the first baseball practice of the season. The truck rolled down the hill flinging Joseph out the windshield fracturing his hip and entrapping Paul behind the wheel.
The team, family, friends and community members sped to St. Mary’s Hospital to await the news of Paul’s condition and if he was going to make it. It wasn’t long after Paul had arrived that the doctors confirmed he had injured his C-6 vertebrate, saying Paul would never walk again. He would be lucky to live. Many doctors and nurses did not think he would make it. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster of emotion for everyone.
Everyone was thinking of fundraising ideas and the boys he had been friends with since his early days at Ashton became a sweeping force of caring and compassion. They came to be known as The Brothers in Battle and raised money to help Paul, his precious mother April Vickers and his ornery little brother Caleb for Paul’s specialized medical care.
The rest of family and friends became known as Paul’s Partners in Prayer and set out on challenge made by Paul to sell 1,000 t-shirts since his goal was to score the ever covenant goal of scoring 1,000 career points led by Jodi Johnson who became known as the “T-Shirt Lady.” Other fundraisers included boot drives, restaurant donations, various t-shirts, auctions, various benefit concerts, walks and car shows.
Paul’s Partners in Prayer t-shirt has the Bible verse Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” This simple verse has provided Paul and his supporters with encouragement and comfort since the wreck.
He spent several weeks in the ICU at Cabell Huntington Hospital, he received a letter and picture from his favorite college basketball team, the University of Kentucky and Coach Calipari. The Marshall University Baseball team visited him to give a few words of encouragement.
After the weeks in the ICU, we received the great news that Paul would be transported to Shriners Hospital of Chicago, which specializes in spinal cord injury. However, a few medical implications and weather delays postponed Paul’s trip to the Windy City. When the all clear was given family and friends missed school and work to send Paul and April off to a brighter future.
As soon as he arrived in Chicago, Paul captured the hearts of his doctors and other caregivers. He had been put on a ventilator which the Cabell Huntington Hospital doctors said he would have for the rest of his life, he proved them wrong. The Shriners staff thought if he was going to live without it he would have to be weaned off of it but once they took him off he never went back to it, which really showed the doctors they had a fighter on their hands.
The next few months he underwent hours of physical therapy, learned how to write since his hands were left paralyzed and became a testament for God’s grace. He made sure he had his baseball jersey for him to wear when the team took to the diamond for all their games. He worked hard throughout his therapy but while he was there he was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Chi-Town. Many friends and family drove to visit Paul and April throughout their stay.
The most heartwarming day of this story came on a warm, sunny day in June. On June 14, many folks came out to Yeager Airport to welcome April and Paul back to West Virginia. The Shriners, the Brothers of the Wheel, media, family and friends all had tears in their eyes. People from out of state and complete strangers rejoiced in the homecoming event.
A week after coming home from Chicago Paul was back with the team for summer ball practice. He has been the motivational leader and coach for his teammates. He has attended the majority of practices since school has started and wears his number 11 jersey for all the basketball games. Following a scrimmage over Thanksgiving break, Paul was not feeling well and was taken back to Cabell Huntington Hospital. The nurse that night was one of the nurses who cared for him the night of wreck. She began to tear up because she could not believe that he was off the vent, let alone alive, and an active member of the 2013-14 Hannan Wildcats Basketball team.
Paul’s story is one of the unexpected as well as the prevailing power of prayer.