By Allison Collins
AFTON – The Afton fair, held July 6 through 9, meant four days of bright lights, fast rides, fried foods and big fun. But, for 19-year-old Tyler Wright of Afton, it also meant the fulfillment of a lifelong dream; one he’d been told could never come true.
Tyler, a diehard lover of all things derby, was diagnosed early in life with a developmental disorder known as Williams Syndrome. Because of his diagnosis, Tyler’s father, Stanley Wright, said his son has grown up knowing he’ll never be able to get a driver’s license.
Despite that, on Sunday, July 9, the ultimate day of the Afton Fair, Tyler got to drive a custom-painted derby car before the 2 o’clock demolition derby, something Stanley said Tyler has “always told people he wanted to do some day.”
“He had this big dream,” said Stanley, recalling Tyler’s childhood spent in batter-powered Hot Wheels and, later, four-wheelers and a mini bike. “People laughed and said he’d never drive anything,” said Stanley. Now, he said, “His doctors are so amazed. They said they’d never heard of a Williams Syndrome kid driving a car.”
Tyler’s dream came true, in part, thanks to the kindness of four fellow derby enthusiasts: Jason Sherman, of Bainbridge, father-and-son duo Dave and Eric Meres, also of Bainbridge and Randy Macrabie, of Walton.
Stanley said, “These four guys planned this special event to help him with his dream and they were the only guys out there with him.”
Stanley, who said Tyler met the men after spotting in-progress derby cars at Dave Meres’ Bainbridge garage, noted, “They spent a lot of time with him and really took a liking to him. They spent almost every weekend with him working on cars and they’re the ones who made his dream come true.”
Jason “Jake” Sherman, who manages Road Rage Entertainment and participates in derbies all over the Northeast, said “[Tyler] stopped in one day and we talked a bit and he kept coming back, always willing to work.”
Together with the group, Tyler helped to completely strip the derby cars, removing anything flammable and all glass, and also assisted in prepping the cars for derby day.
Jake said, “He’s a great kid, he really is. And it’s refreshing to see somebody come in and want to work.” He added, “It really was a pleasure having him around.”
Echoing that, Eric Meres said, “He’s a lot of fun to be around and a very sweet kid.”
Jake said that, several months ago at the start of the derby season, he and the others collaborated to find a way to make Tyler’s dream a reality. “We got together and said, ‘What can we do for him?’ and that was what we came up with,” said Jake.
Though he said youth derbies and derbies allowing passengers exist, most are out-of-state. “Obviously we wanted to do it locally,” noted Jake, adding, “We talked about maybe doing a yard derby, but there’s something about the fans and the yelling and everything, so we wanted to get him that derby experience.”
Describing the process, Stanley said, “[Those] guys worked hard building the car and they called the Afton Fair Board to try and get it approved.”
Because the Afton Fair is the only area fair to not require a NYS driver’s license for derby participants, Tyler was able to take part in a modified heat.
Stanley explained, “The car that he had had a special kill switch and [Dave Meres] rode with him.” He added, “Everybody really put a lot into this.”
Tyler’s car, which Stanley said was “painted all up really nice,” read “Tyler’s dream” in large orange letters on the driver’s side.
President of the Afton Fair Board, Rhonda Barriger, said, “This is something he’s always wanted and never been able to fulfill, so we were happy to do that for him.”
Stanley said Tyler’s heat began with a special announcement and, long before that through social media and Tyler’s own long list of friends, he had a sizeable following of well-wishers.
“I swear he probably had at least 60 people there just to see him,” said Stanley, adding, “And these were people who don’t even go to the fair, they actually came just to see Tyler.”
Fans, friends, family members and Tyler were not disappointed. Barriger commented, “We let him do a few hits, we called the heat, gave him his trophy and everybody cheered.”
Stanley, who noted there was a time when he “didn’t even think it’d be possible,” said, “The announcer said, ‘Oh, we have a winner!’ and he got out of the car with his arms up and the crowd just went crazy they were so happy for him.”
Tyler received a trophy measuring roughly three feet tall, said his father.
Stanley, who said he was “amazed” by the whole experience, said, “My daughter started crying in the grandstand and before you know it, a couple more people had tears in their eyes.” Noting that, “everybody knows this kid,” he added, “Even one of derby guys said, ‘I had a tear in my helmet.’”
“It was a very, very special day for Tyler,” said Stanley. His son’s derby debut, he said, is proof to everyone that “you can do anything if you put your mind to it and never give up on your dreams.”