Photo by Anthony Lombardi 

FISHERS' VOICE: Fishers public address announcer Wes Shealey receives a plaque and a bouquet of roses in a pre-game ceremony prior to the varsity basketball game against Arsenal Tech. Shealey, 54, was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2015.
Photo by Anthony Lombardi FISHERS' VOICE: Fishers public address announcer Wes Shealey receives a plaque and a bouquet of roses in a pre-game ceremony prior to the varsity basketball game against Arsenal Tech. Shealey, 54, was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2015.

Wes Shealey sat at the scorer’s table and flipped through his notes in preparation for the Fishers boys varsity basketball game against Arsenal Tech.

It’s a routine he’s done since he became a public address announcer at the high school in 2012 — but, over the past few years, life has been anything but routine.

Wes Shealey was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare neurological disease that affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement, in May of 2015. Early signs of the disease include stumbling, trouble swallowing and muscle stiffness — symptoms that Wes Shealey experienced years ago. And while ALS has forced him to require a wheelchair, it hasn’t taken his voice.

“I want to do all I can for as long as I can,” he said. “Part of that is my announcing — that helps keep me going — it’s therapeutic for me. I’m very fortunate that ALS hasn’t taken my voice away.”

A love for the game

Wes Shealey, 54, has been a Tiger since his daughter, Brittney, enrolled at Fishers as a freshman in 2006 and competed in track and cheerleading. He became the PA announcer for the school’s freshman baseball team when his son, Ben, entered the school in 2012. As his son progressed through the ranks to junior varsity and varsity, Wes Shealey followed. Baseball has always been a passion for the Shealeys — it’s Wes’ favorite sport.

An Atlanta Braves fan, Wes Shealey reminisces about the lean years of the ’70s and the fun that was the powerhouse teams of the ‘90s. He jokes that it’s back to the former decade these days. When he was diagnosed with ALS, Wes Shealey and his son outlined a plan to catch a game at all 30 MLB parks. They’ve hit 22 so far — Seattle, Minnesota, Toronto, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and the New York Mets are their last eight — but they’ve had to scale back recently due to health limitations.

A native of Atlanta, Wes Shealey also knows that Fridays are for football. “I love Friday nights,” he said. “Football has always been a huge part of our lives.” Wes Shealey took over as Fishers PA announcer for football three years ago — the same time he became the school’s basketball announcer, too. Growing up in the south, he said, basketball wasn’t as big as football and baseball, but the sport has quickly found a special place in his heart. “It’s just so fast paced and action filled,” he said. “It’s probably my favorite to announce.”

While his battle with ALS has forced him to stop participating in activities such as running and working out at the gym, it hasn’t yet stopped him from broadcasting. It’s a day, though, that weighs on his mind almost every time he speaks into the mic.

“I’m conscious of it — I think that sometimes it makes matters worse,” he said. “I know that it’s inevitable that it’s going to come to that day where I’m going to have to step away. I don’t want to think about it, but … I can’t dwell on the things that I can’t do anymore. I need to focus on the things that I can still do. I have to look for the blessings in my life that I continue to receive. And they show themselves every day.”

The voice of Fishers

Wes Shealey received a phone call from Fishers athletic director Rob Seymour Jan. 8 about a pre-game ceremony the school wanted to hold for him prior to the boys home game the following night against Arsenal Tech.

The program’s booster club, the FAST BREAK CLUB, approached Seymour with an idea to honor the broadcaster with an ALS awareness night, the athletic director said. Seymour was all aboard.

“Wes has played an important role for Fishers High School,” he said in an email. “His professional delivery has brought spirit to our contests.”

Even though Wes Shealey knew the school’s plan to recognize him, he didn’t know what they had in mind. And there was other business he needed to attend to first. Each quarter, he spends about six hours in an ALS clinic undergoing tests and having doctors monitor him. After attending clinic a few times, he said, you realize you’re just a lab rat, and there’s nothing the doctors can do for you.

“There are only two treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration for ALS,” he said. “One typically extends your life expectancy anywhere from two to six months. The other one is a new drug that was just passed this last fall. But not every ALS patient, including myself, qualifies for it.”

Despite most of his day spent in the clinic, Wes Shealey is prepared to call both the Tigers junior varsity and varsity games a few hours later. Fishers has helped prolong his announcing career by purchasing equipment, such as a push to talk button, to make the job a bit easier. During baseball season, a tent with clear plastic is placed on field level, since Wes Shealey can no longer walk to the second-story press box. “I’ve gotten to the point where my legs give out when I try to stand and transfer from my wheelchair,” he said. “I’ve had a few falls just in the past couple weeks.”

He’s learned little tricks along the way that’ve helped him remain stronger throughout the course of an event. Prerecorded announcements, when possible, help save his breathe and energy. And if he’s feeling tired, he’ll change up some of his phrases. He’s still conscious about it how it all sounds, though.

“I think I hear changes,” he said. “I know that I get pretty winded, especially by the end of the varsity game. I’m starting to struggle to get things out … I can’t get out as much with one breathe.”

In between games that night, though, Wes Shealey gets an extended rest. His wife, Jennifer, and Brittney, 26, accompany him to the center of the basketball court in front of a couple hundred or so in the crowd. Members of the team walk up to him, reach down and shake his hand. He’s given a plaque that reads: “Presented to Wes Shealey. An appreciation for your dedication and devotion to Fishers High School boys basketball. You are the voice of Fishers High School.” The cheerleaders hand his wife a bouquet of roses.

“It’s just a sense of belonging and it’s a testament to the support that we have,” Wes Shealey said. “It was special — I don’t know where’d I’d be without the support we’ve gotten from the Tiger family … to be called “The Voice” when ALS can rob you of that, it’s like you’re beating an unbeatable disease.”

After the ceremony, Seymour asks Wes Shealey if he’ll be able to continue with the night’s PA responsibilities. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll just roll back over and get my headset on. Let’s go.”

Raising awareness

One of Wes Shealey’s goals, he said, is to raise as much awareness as he can on the small platform he stands on. He’s accepted the fact there’s no cure for the disease. A typical prognosis for someone with ALS is two to five years life expectancy. “That’s what I’m staring at, but we’re also looking to the future of other people in Hamilton County who might suffer from this illness,” he said.

Wes Shealey has been active with The ALS Association since shortly after his diagnosis. He’s participated in the organization’s Walk to Defeat ALS each of the last three years. His team — Walking With Wes — has raised about $40,000 for research.

Members of his church have established a foundation called the Wes Shealey Fund for ALS Support. That’ll continue long after he’s gone, he said. As potentially will his scholarship program that helps send two kids who have had a loved one diagnosed with the disease to a camp called Hope Loves Company. Then there’s the annual cornhole event that raises funds for his foundation, too.

“The results of that financially have just been jaw-dropping,” he said. “It’s just an amazing family we’ve got around us — I just never would have seen it coming. They’ve made this journey a lot easier than what I could ever imagine it being without them … It reaffirms that you’re doing things the right way in your life. That you’re trying to make a difference in other’s lives and not be self-centered, and when people recognize you for that, it’s pretty special,” he said. “I know I keep using that word, but it’s special.”