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Falcons Sports

Fabius-Pompey Honors A Great Man

Posted Monday, December 02, 2013 by Nolan Weidner
By Nolan Weidner | nweidner@syracuse.com
on November 27, 2013 2:15 p.m.
 
 
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Josh Virgil needs a new ride.

His Ford van is getting on in years and it has almost 150,000 miles on it.

A group of Fabius and Pompey area residents are trying to give Virgil – who has spent thousands of hours helping to coach sports teams at the local high school and overseeing summer youth programs in soccer and baseball – a big hand in buying a new one.

On Saturday, from 2 to 6 p.m., the public is invited to a fund-raising event at Knoxie’s Pub on Route 20 in Pompey. The afternoon will include food, entertainment, raffles and a silent auction. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Family admission is $30 advance or $40 the day of the event.

The proceeds will go toward a new van for Virgil, a former star athlete at Fabius-Pompey High School. His life changed suddenly in October 1998, when the car he was driving went off the road and he was left paralyzed.

Now 36 years old and confined to a wheelchair, Virgil has spent the past 14 years helping the school’s varsity baseball coach, Shawn May, who first enlisted his former player to help him out. That role has expanded to include helping out in soccer and basketball, two other sports at which Virgil excelled.

“It keeps me busy,” Virgil said Monday during basketball practice at the school, where he helps his cousin, Sarah Virgil, coach the junior varsity. “I hate staying at home.”

Virgil puts a lot of miles on his handicapped-accessible van, including years of taking spring trips to Myrtle Beach where Fabius-Pompey kids play in early-season baseball tournaments.

A self-described sports junkie, Virgil said he’ll even tune in to watch sports such as curling. Nothing, however, trumps his beloved New York Yankees.

May’s baseball teams at Fabius-Pompey have won nine sectional titles and a pair of state championships in the years Virgil has helped out. Several years ago, Virgil got involved with soccer and basketball as well.

Virgil serves as a role model, mentor and friend to the athletes, said Matt Rhode, the school’s athletics director and varsity basketball coach.

“They respect him, without a doubt,” Rhode said. “He brings a great perspective.”

His story also is an inspiration to persevere in the face of huge adversity.

“Before my accident I wasn’t in the greatest place in life,” said Virgil, who graduated in 1996. “I didn’t do well in school. I wasn’t on the right road in life.”

Instead of carrying a heart full of resentment or bitterness over the wreck, Virgil has devoted himself to overcoming his limitations and helping to influence young athletes.

“It totally changed me. It brought me back to what life is all about,” he said. “One minute I’m driving down the road, and the next minute I’m paralyzed.

“You just never know,” said the perpetually cheerful Virgil. “It’s what I preach to the kids all of the time – don’t take anything for granted.”
 

Virgil said his coaching has obvious limits.

“A lot of the skills I can’t really teach. I can talk them through it but I can’t show them,” he said. “It’s more the mental aspect of the kids, and watching them grow from boys to men – helping the ones that need more help than others.”

Sarah Virgil, who scored 1,187 points in her career and is arguably the best female player ever to suit up for the Falcons, said she grew up in the small community idolizing Josh, seven years her senior.

She’s honored to have him helping out with the JV team.

“It’s great. He knows the game, and the kids respond very well to him,” she said. “It’s very nice to see the interaction he has with the boys. He just has a special touch.”

Josh is more than just someone to roll out the basketballs, she said. He knows what he’s talking about and has a voice in the decisions.

“He has a big say in what happens,” she said. “He’s like the guy on my shoulder, so to speak, during games and in practice. It’s like having an extra set of eyes, because you can’t see everything.”

The van that Virgil drives is customized with a lift and hand controls for the accelerator and brakes. A voice-activated computer helps control things like the turn signals and windshield wipers.

Rhode said the vehicle is starting to have issues that any older van would. It starts rough, and the lift and some of the other controls act up often.

Virgil said he’s deeply appreciative for Saturday’s event, and for all of the help he’s received in the past.

“When I had my accident, they had a huge benefit for me at Toggenburg (ski area),” he recalled. “It was unreal. They built my apartment for me, and my house. Everything they’ve done through the school. Everything I’ve ever needed, the community’s been right there for me.”

But the event also brings mixed feelings for Virgil, who remains independent and doesn’t want to be seen as asking for help.

“They asked me a few months ago about (the fundraiser),” he said. “I was touched. It hit me pretty good. I’m not the type to ask.”

Virgil said he plans to attend and looks forward to seeing some old friends – and saying thanks.

“It’s perfect that this benefit is this weekend, because everybody talks about how thankful they are at this time of year,” he said. “I can’t put into words how thankful I am.”

 

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