Griffin Wheeler: Merrimack Valley’s Iron Man

  • Merrimack Valley guard Griffin Wheeler fights through a double team during a basketball game on March 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Concord goes up for a header against Merrimack Valley’s Griffin Wheeler on Friday evening, Sept. 25, 2020, at Memorial Field in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • MV shortstop Griffin Wheeler waits for a pitch. Wheeler, a senior, has played soccer, basketball and baseball all four years at MV. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 4/30/2021 5:35:44 PM

Griffin Wheeler is doing something unusual this spring, aka baseball season in the Wheeler household. The Merrimack Valley senior shortstop and pitcher is also playing AAU basketball.

“Usually when basketball ends, baseball starts, and then it’s soccer,” Wheeler said. “But I’m going to be playing (basketball) in college, so my college coach said I should be playing this spring and into the summer.”

That’s right, even without year-round AAU, which many will tell you is the only way to the next level, Wheeler will be playing basketball at Lasell University.

“Griff Wheeler is a self-made player, and I think you want those types of players in your program,” MV boys’ basketball coach Tim Mucher said. “You’d want 10 Griff Wheelers on your team.”

Wheeler has played soccer, basketball and baseball all three seasons and all four years at Merrimack Valley, and he has yet to miss a practice or game. Not one.

“I think it’s important to be very dependable. If you say you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it. ‘No days off,’ that’s kind of what I believe in,” Griffin said, quoting the infamous taskmaster, Bill Belichick.

Most of those practices and games were at the varsity level. Wheeler has been a four-year varsity starter on the baseball team, where he was a Second Team Division II pick as a sophomore. He was a three-year basketball starter, played in two D-II semifinals, led MV in scoring and assists the last two seasons and was a 2021 Second Team D-II pick. He was also a three-year starter and Second Team D-II selection as a senior in soccer, and he led that team in scoring this fall when the Pride made a run to the semifinals.

The durability streak nearly ended at the start of Wheeler’s junior year basketball season when he injured his left (non-shooting) wrist during practice before the second game of the season. He didn’t put himself at risk by playing through the injury, but in hindsight he realizes he probably should have let it rest, for at last a game or two. But the MV Iron Man wasn’t hearing it at the time.

“At that moment I felt like I could play, and I didn’t want to just leave my team out there,” Wheeler said.

The truth is, Wheeler has been showing up at MV and preparing to compete for the Pride long before he got to high school. His father, Sean Wheeler, is the Merrimack Valley Middle School athletic director and has been the high school’s baseball coach for 19 years.

“I was always a blue and white guy,” Griffin said, referring to the MV colors. “Seeing my dad coach baseball there and I went to every single game. I remember getting out of school early just to ride the bus to their playoff games. And my dad has keys to the gym, so we would be in the gym all summer and all fall just getting ready for basketball and stuff like that. We were always doing that in elementary school and middle school, and I always pictured myself playing in that gym, and then I got to do it. It was great.”

That intense dedication to sports was also passed down to Griffin’s younger brother, Gavin, a sophomore at MV. The two Wheelers have been looking forward to this year in hopes they would play together for the Pride, and that’s exactly what’s happened in soccer, basketball and baseball, where they not only play for their dad but also their uncle, Justin Wheeler, who has been an assistant with his brother for all of his 19 seasons as the head coach.

“To me it’s like a family thing because Griffin’s younger brother, Gavin, is the same way – when they say they’re going to do something they will see it out until the end,” MV soccer coach Ken Fuller said. “It’s a cool family to be around and to see them playing varsity together this year was great. They really supported each other and got excited when the other would do well, and that was fun to see coming from brothers.”

Fuller, Mucher and the elder Wheeler all used the same word to describe Griffin – coachable – and there’s no higher praise coming from a coach. Especially when it comes from the coach who is your toughest critic, and your biggest fan.

“He knows I’m harder on him than anybody else, and he expects it and he’s always handled it well. I know there’s some days where he kind of filters me out, but he’s an easy kid to coach,” Sean Wheeler said. “And I try to separate the two things. When we get in the car after a game I’m just dad and we try to focus on other things besides the game that was just played.”

His dad has also been his coach since he was a 6-year-old in the Merrimack Valley Little League, and Griffin wouldn’t want it any other way.

“He’s been my coach forever, so I’m used to it. We’ve had our struggles sometimes, but it’s great, I love it,” Griffin said. “It builds that bond that other fathers and sons maybe don’t get to have.”

One of the reasons Wheeler chose Lasell, which is in Newton, Mass., was its proximity to his home in Penacook. He doesn’t want to stray too far away from his family. He’ll also miss his three-sport life at MV, even if he will be living out a dream by playing college basketball.

“Playing three sports helped me tremendously. Honestly, it was probably the most important thing for me,” Wheeler said. “It keeps me in shape and keeps me busy and it’s just something I’ve been doing my whole life. I can’t really see me doing it any other way, but next year I’ll be that one-sport guy.”

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