Whitfield Academy senior Luke Wheatley only played one tennis match before spring sports were canceled due to COVID-19. He lost that match and never got a chance at redemption.
“I’m a big sports guy,” said Wheatley, 17. “I ran cross-country in the fall, played basketball in the winter and tennis in the spring. Probably one of the biggest events I’ll miss is the ‘Wascars.’ We have a big banquet and an awards show for all the sports teams at Whitefield. It’s named after the Oscars.”
Wheatley is one of roughly 3.7 million American high school seniors in the Class of 2020 who have missed milestone moments.
“I do miss going to school and having all the festivities that happen in the spring and senior year stuff, but really the worst part is not having closure and knowing that I won’t have the same experience that everyone else who has graduated high school has had,” added Wheatley, a Southeast Christian Church member. “It obviously didn’t turn out like it has been, but I think in the end, even though it wasn’t the same as everyone else, it will at least be a good story.”
Wheatley is attending Asbury University in the fall. He plans to major in business and run on the cross-country team.
While May is usually about celebrating a senior’s academic and athletic accomplishments, the quarantine has shifted Wheatley’s focus to others.
“There’s always something that happens,” he said. “You’re not going to go through life without something happening to you like that. I’m OK with that. It has opened up a lot of opportunities that I would never have had the time or reason to do. Sometimes it can be really easy and enticing to stay to myself and stay home, but I don’t see why I can’t help other people who are struggling right now.””
Wheatley, his three younger siblings and his parents have invested in the community.
A couple of weeks ago, they helped CrossRoads Missions, a Southeast local missions partner, by making about 500 medical masks for first responders.
“I was toward the end of the production line,” Wheatley said. “My parents were cutting the original material, sending it up to others to sew and then I put the straps on and finished the masks. There is a lot more than you think that goes into making a mask.”
The Wheatleys then served at Sunrise Children’s Services, an organization that provides care and hope to foster children.
They made Easter baskets stocked with candy, toiletries and notes for about 20 boys in the Mount Washington Sunrise Children’s Services foster home.
“My family and some families that we know made Easter baskets because I don’t think they normally get that stuff on Easter,” Wheatley added. “We could show some love to them because especially right now, they can barely see anyone coming in and out of there.”
The Wheatleys also made cards with Bible verses and inspirational notes for residents of a local nursing home.
“They’re kind of in the same boat, like no one’s going in and out of there, and they can’t see their loved ones,” he said. “It’s a small thing, but we just let them know that there are people still thinking of them right now because they’re some of the most vulnerable people at the moment.”
Pre-coronavirus, Wheatley didn’t realize how good he had it.
“I’ve had some of my own struggles and family issues before, but it could be a lot worse,” Wheatley said. “I am physically capable to do almost any type of service. So, I’d like to pay it forward for those who physically can’t or don’t have the financial means to do so. I’d like to be able to use what I have to give to people who don’t have that opportunity.”
Wheatley and his father, Eric, have served communion at the Blankenbaker Campus for about two years.
He is proud of his son’s choices in a challenging season.
“Thinking back to my wife and I’s experience at that age … I thought we were pretty mature, but I feel like Luke is years ahead of where we were and not making the world all about him,” Eric Wheatley said. “I’m sure he’s disappointed and hurting about some of the things he’s missing, but a big credit to his mother, Jolene, who has organized some opportunities for us to serve and make it more about others than our own inconveniences.”
Rob Minton, the founder and director of CrossRoads Missions, said he has been in a small group with the Wheatleys for years.
“Luke exemplifies good, Christian character,” Minton said. “His family has done a bunch of projects with CrossRoads, building six tiny homes for veterans, homes for families in crisis and most recently making masks for frontline responders. Luke is always willing to help and he doesn’t make any excuses.”