Former NBA star#039;s bowling alley thrives in Luverne

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The lively chatter of students having a good time bounces off the walls of BasketBowl.

As the sixth graders from Greenville Middle School laugh and talk with each other while they bowl or shoot basketball, owner and professional basketball player Wesley Person is busy pouring sodas and preparing hamburgers for this hungry crowd.

So why, after 12 years in professional basketball, would this 1990 Brantley High School graduate move back to his hometown?

&#8220I wanted to watch my kids grow up here,” Person said. &#8220I wanted them to have a clean and safe environment to grow up in and to enjoy themselves in.”

Person said that he felt that opening BasketBowl and SharpShooter, the skating rink directly across from the South Forest Avenue bowling alley, was more about giving &#8220the entire family a place to go together.”

SharpShooter is, in addition to being a skating rink, also a basketball facility, a place where, Person said, kids could have the opportunity to develop their basketball skills all year round and not just during basketball season.

&#8220We have summer programs and winter leagues for basketball just like the recreation leagues have for baseball,” he added.

However, it's more than just summer programs and winter basketball leagues.

&#8220It gives me the facility to do individual basketball camps so I can give back some of my knowledge that I've learned along the way to benefit the kids for their futures,” Person said.

&#8220There aren't many people who would go off and make a lot of money and come back and do what he's done for the young people,” Claude Williams, a bus driver with the Butler County School System, said. &#8220He needs to be commended for what he's done for the kids.”

As the lunches are ready to be served, Person quickly turns down the music long enough for the teacher to call the students' names.

&#8220I've been here four times, and I think it's a lot of fun,” Kaylin Bowen, a sixth grader at GMS, said. &#8220They play music here that is appropriate for teens. If you don't like to bowl, then you can play arcade games or shoot pool or play basketballŠ..And the food is really good.”

As soon as all the students get their lunches, Person turns the music back up, and the happy chatter continues again.

Person said that without Luverne Mayor Joe Rex Sport and the Luverne City Council working together with him, neither BasketBowl nor SharpShooter would have been possible.

&#8220I really want to thank the city of Luverne for opening their arms and allowing me to bring my businesses here,” he continued. &#8220This allows me the opportunity to fulfill the dream I've always had of working with kids. That's something I hope to do for years to come.”

And Person has already begun fulfilling that dream.

This past Jan. 27, he took all of the kids who had signed up for his youth basketball league on an end-of-the-season trip to Auburn University to see the Auburn-Florida basketball game.

Approximately 60 youth from Crenshaw County went on the trip.

Person paid for all of the expenses.

&#8220The kids got to see Auburn practice, and they got to tour Auburn's campus,” he added.

In addition, many schools bring their students to BasketBowl and to SharpShooter for after-school reward trips.

Person said that Fort Dale Academy and Greenville Middle School had each brought two classes, along with Banks Middle School which had also brought two classes.

Luverne School has brought five classes to Person's facilities for &#8220reward” trips.

Person said that he wanted to thank all of these schools, especially Luverne School, for being one of his biggest supporters.

&#8220I also really appreciate the surrounding churches from Pike, Butler and Crenshaw counties who have been so supportive of me,” he said. &#8220I hope to start church leagues in the near future. I think they would really enjoy that.”

GMS student Latasha Simms smiles as she looks around the bowling alley.

&#8220I'll definitely be coming back,” she said.