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Ohio man had a life experience with Steelers

November 22, 2018

ASHLAND - Growing up 100 miles north of Pittsburgh in DuBois, Pennsylvania, it’s easy to understand how Shawn Spinda became a fan of Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw and all the other heroes that wore gold and black.

“I was an altar boy back in the day. They (Pittsburgh Steelers) had their spring training camp at Latrobe (St. Vincent College), which is a Catholic college,” said Spinda, who made trips to Latrobe about 75 miles away. “Since I was an altar boy I got to hang out with the team. We had some extra connections and we got to do some extra activities.”

That early indoctrination into Steelermania left quite an impression on Spinda, and nothing changed when his family moved to Worthington, Kentucky, when he was 12. Spinda’s basement in his Ashland home is stuffed full of Steelers memorabilia.

For several years Spinda has arranged autograph sessions and golf outings for the Steelers, former Steelers and other professional athletes. Some of the Steelers have stayed at his home and he stays at their homes in Pittsburgh.

About 10 years ago Spinda began arranging a trip each year to a Steelers game for a physically or mentally challenged person. Two years ago there was an exception when he took a young homeless family of four from Ashland. Spinda also hooked them up with an Ashland homeless shelter, and his face lights up when he says the family is back on its feet and doing a lot better now.

“It’s all about life experiences for the people that don’t have a chance to have that kind of experience,” he said. “That’s why I do it. I like to see people happy like I was.”

On this Thanksgiving holiday, D.J. Wise and his family are thankful for the lifetime memories created in August. Wise experienced a fairy-tale day Aug. 30 in Pittsburgh. The huge Steelers fan from Portsmouth, Ohio, was born with a rare brain condition Alobar Holoprosencephaly. Many people born with it don’t live to be older than four.

Wise, 31, had the time of his life watching the Steelers battle the Carolina Panthers in pre-season action. Pittsburgh beating Carolina was just the icing on the cake. Wise and his parents, Don and Donna Wise and his brother Corey Wise, had passes to mingle on Heinz Field about 90 minutes before the game. D.J. had a football autographed and was photographed with the Steelers’ Roosevelt Nix, Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

A group of die-hard Steelers fans known as the Renegade Tailgate Family were among those that pitched in to help Spinda make Wise’s dream come true. They come from near and far, with some traveling to Pittsburgh all the way from North Carolina.

The Wise’s had two nights lodging, food allowance, gas money, jerseys, game tickets and parking, all free. Before the trip Spinda said they were going to “Steeler him (D.J.) up” at the Pittsburgh sports store “Yinzers in da Burgh.”

Finding a Super Bowl Champion in Steeltown was easy for the Wises. They visited with former Steeler J.T. Thomas at Crazy Mocha, a coffee shop the four-time Super Bowl champion and pro-bowler owns in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. They also had dinner with former Steeler Dwayne Woodruff at Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36. Bettis, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team wasn’t there, but Wise’s family got to visit with Miss Pennsylvania.

One highlight of the trip was the quality time D.J. Wise spent with Woodruff, now a Common Pleas Judge in Allegheny County.

“He was a very sweet man,” Donna Wise said. “He (D.J.) loved meeting the players,” and said it was the best trip ever.

Spinda said he enjoys creating life experiences for people.

The fun time with the Steelers also helped Don Wise get his mind off of having cancer. Just days before going to Pittsburgh, Donna

Wise said her husband was in Columbus undergoing tests.

“They’re pretty sure he has a tumor on his brain between his left ear and temple,” she said. “Don has a pacemaker

defibrillator because his heart’s really bad. They don’t think that they can do surgery on Don, because they don’t

think that he can make it.”

Since the trip to the Steelers game D.J. has been hospitalized several times.

“There’s got to be a special place in Heaven for Shawn (Spinda),” Donna Wise said. “There’s no words to explain what a sweet person, he’s a great guy. He’s got a heart of gold. Didn’t even know us. I believe God put our paths together.

“I really thank God that they (D.J. and his father) got to spend this time together and do something so wonderful.”

D.J. asked his mother if could get some Christmas cards like his friend, Andrew Peck from Wheelersburg, Ohio, did before he died. Peck received 26,00 Christmas cards before his death at age 10 on Christmas Eve 2015.

Christmas cards for D.J. can be mailed to 2509 Thomas Ave., Portsmouth, Ohio, 44522. The Christmas Shop at 2248 29th St. in Ashland is giving cards to anyone who wants to participate.

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