Above: Victor Wright, 48, receives his John Muir High School football varsity letter during halftime of the Muir-Arcadia game Friday night. Muir won, 27-7.
LETTER FINALLY ARRIVES
Paralyzed in 1976, former player given school honor
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
This story originally published on A1 in the Star-News section on Saturday, Oct. 17
It had been 33 years since Victor Wright had gone anywhere near John Muir High School’s football field.
There wasn’t much reason for him to return.
That was where Wright, a talented sophomore on the Mustangs’ frosh/soph team, suffered a devastating injury that paralyzed him from the neck down on Sept. 26, 1976.
It’s a memory Wright, now 48, remembers down to every detail – from the moment his knee gave out, which prevented him from squaring his shoulders for a clean tackle, to the second when everything went dark.
“When I made the tackle I fell to my left,” Wright recalled. “But I did not hit the player square. I made impact with the left side of my head and I went down.”
He still remembers feeling an electrical shock run through his entire body.
“I knew I was laying on the field and I knew I had just made a tackle, then I felt my body curl up.”
Wright’s high school football career came to an abrupt end on that warm Friday afternoon. And the kid they called “Bullet” never got a chance to move up and play varsity football for his beloved Mustangs.
The years have passed and in that time Wright has accomplished just about everything he’s set out to do – from earning a college degree to starting a nonprofit organization.
But those who saw Wright play knew he was good enough to one day play varsity football under Muir’s legendary coach Jim Brownfield.
They wanted to remind him, and on Friday night they did.
For the first time since being carted off the field and into an ambulance 33 years ago, Wright returned to Muir’s football field and was honored with a varsity letter from Mustangs head football coach Ken Howard.
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“It feels good to be back after so much time, Wright said Friday night. “I appreciate this and I want to thank everyone who helped me make this happen.”
“To get my letter means I’m still a part of the team and I’m still a Muir Mustang,” he said.
It was a surreal moment for Wright, not so much because of his return or even that he got a varsity letter, but because people remembered.
“I always wanted to play varsity and represent the school,” Wright said. “It’s great to know that I’m not forgotten about and that people still remember me and that I once played for John Muir.”
Wright broke several bones where the brain connects to the spinal cord; muscle swelling in his neck caused the cord to sever.
He spent six months undergoing physical therapy before going home. He has required around-the-clock care ever since and is confined to a wheelchair.
Former Muir coach Bill Paul, who worked at Muir for 25 years, remembers coaching Wright at Eliot Junior High in Altadena.
“He was a good athlete and a great rope climber,” Paul said. “He always had a great attitude and he was always smiling. The kid just had tremendous talent.”
Wright lettered in five sports at Eliot – football, baseball, gymnastics, volleyball and track.
Down but not out
Wright was determined not to let the fact he was quadriplegic define him.
He graduated on time with his high school class and plans to attend next month’s 30-year reunion.
After graduating from Muir, Wright enrolled at Los Angeles City College where he earned an associate’s degree, becoming one of the first quadriplegics ever to receive a college degree.
“That means a lot, because I wanted to tell people that I wasn’t just a football player but I had a brain,” Wright said. “I was willing to do what I had to do. It took me 10 years because I took like one or two courses each semester for me to be able to complete. And I accomplished it.”
Wright formed the nonprofit Family of Friends International, which provides relief supplies to victims of natural disasters.
Wright said he might keep his varsity letter in a closet with the rest of his junior high letters because he doesn’t have a letterman jacket.
“When I was playing I had intended to get a jacket,” Wright said.
Howard is now on a mission.
“I’m sure we can do some fundraising and get a jacket for the young man,” said Howard. “He deserves it.”