When Danny Verdun Wheeler was a senior on Thomson's 2002 state championship football team, his mother, Susie Moton, would readily admit that she wasn't much into football. When Danny became a recruiting target of several major southeastern colleges, she began to realize that maybe football wasn't such a bad gig. After all, it was presenting Danny with a chance at a fully-paid college education. She surely wouldn't complain about that.
After four fast years as a linebacker at The University of Georgia, Danny capped his collegiate career with an appearance in the Hula Bowl, an annual all-star game played in Hawaii. Mrs. Moton, along with her traveling companions, son, Chris Tutt, and sister, Gloria Brown, made the trip to Hawaii to watch Danny play, and take in a few sights as well.
"I never would have made any effort to go to Hawaii without Danny playing there," she explained. "His invitation to play in the Hula Bowl made for a good excuse to go."
Mrs. Moton, Mr. Tutt, and Mrs. Brown made the trip on their own and stayed four nights.
I could tell that the long trip and jet lag may have played havoc with her days and nights, as she had to slowly think through their itinerary for the trip and the Sunday afternoon, Jan. 14 game.
I've never been to Hawaii, so I asked Mrs. Moton to describe her experience in her own words:
"My experience in Hawaii was one that I will never forget. I enjoyed watching my son play in the Hula Bowl, but there were many other things that I enjoyed so much. We toured Pearl Harbor and rode on the Pacific Ocean and saw the most beautiful flowers and trees in the world. I did a little shopping, but not much, because things are a lot more expensive than they are here.
"The sights on the hillside and the rainbow when we were at the stadium were just beautiful. I heard an explosion from a luau but didn't get to see it. I walked for miles along the beach and saw many people just enjoying the water. There were many other things that I did and saw, but those are the things I will always remember the most."
I've worked with Mrs. Moton at Thomson Middle School for almost 14 years, and if anyone ever deserved a nice trip to paradise, she is one. Mrs. Moton is devoutly faithful to our Creator and may not refer to a place on this planet as paradise, but I'm glad she got a glimpse of this earth's version.
She is a sincere lady and very patient with the students that she assists in the nurse's office and the after-school program. She is quietly proud of Danny's accomplishments in school and on the football field but never boastful. Mrs. Moton enjoys simple pleasures the best, but is most appreciative of all her trips to Danny's games over the years, especially this last one. After all, Hawaii has a lot more to offer than football venues around the south.
And let this be a lesson to any naysayers who may have their doubts about the place of athletics in academia. Without football, there are now at least four people from Thomson that likely would have never taken the initiative to travel to a place like Hawaii. Danny Verdun Wheeler has been a model citizen and taken full advantage of the opportunities made available to him. He, his mother, brother and aunt have all ended up with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that came about as a direct result of athletics.
You didn't have to be on their trip to be happy for them.