Sam Wrigley knows how to pivot.

A senior at Mt. Blue High School, Wrigley has lost two sports seasons to the coronavirus pandemic. Last spring, it was baseball. Even though Wrigley was disappointed, he turned his attention to training for football season.

But then Wrigley lost a football season, too, when the Maine Principals’ Association announced it would not offer tackle football because of COVID-19 safety guidelines. There’d be no flag season, either, after Mt. Blue opted out of all fall sports.

But instead of feeling sorry for himself with another lost athletic season, Wrigley decided to get to work. With his own time and money, the motivated senior is putting together his own car at his Farmington home, a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta that he hopes to have finished sometime this spring.

“Being a high school kid, I’ve got a budget,” Wrigley joked. “But I found this pretty clean body for $400. And I was like ‘Well, I don’t have anything better to do at this time, so might as well build something to beat on.'”

A love for vehicles runs in the family, Sam’s father, Jeff Wrigley, said.

“My dad has always been in to cars,” Sam Wrigley said. “He’s got quite a few antiques. And his dad was a mechanic, so he knows the tricks.”

“My dad was a lifetime mechanic,” added Jeff Wrigley, who is a detective with the Maine Attorney General’s Office. “We owned the Sunoco station in downtown Oakland. We had a garage down on Fairfield Street in Oakland, heading toward Colby (College). I’m one of five (kids), and me and my three brothers grew up twisting wrenches in my dad’s garage. I was always into cars, but I got into police work (for a career) when I got out of high school. But I’ve always done my own mechanical work.

“I’ve always had several project cars over the years, but specifically during Sam’s life, he’s watched me build two classic cars that I still have here at the house. It’s kind of been a way of life. He’s watched me use those as fun projects, but at the same time, it’s a good way to process stress.”

Thanks to online research, Sam Wrigley managed to find two Jettas — one with a decent body, another with a decent engine — and has tinkered with both. Though he’s available as a sounding board for advice, and to ask questions along the way, Jeff Wrigley said he’s let Sam make his own decisions on what to buy for the car.

“Sam wrote all the bills of sales (when buying both cars), he transitioned all the money, I did all the grunt work,” Jeff Wrigley said. “We got it on the trailer and got it home. I went ‘Well, OK, we’ll make a list and consider when we start.’ It wasn’t like that at all. We got (the cars) home Saturday. I woke up Sunday morning to noise in the garage. He already had the bumper off, the grille off and was digging to get to the radiator support. He got into my tools and started digging, and he hasn’t stopped.”

Mt. Blue’s Sam Wrigley works on the interior of a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta he is using as a parts car while building a second 2001 Jetta at his home in Farmington on Tuesday. Wrigley, a senior and starting center on the school’s football team, is working on the project while he and others are unable to participate in the fall sports season due to coronavirus. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Jeff Wrigley jokingly said the two have only disagreed on what type of car his son should build.

“He would listen to every podcast and every sort of documentary you can find on European cars,” Jeff Wrigley said. “He had this interest in European cars. We are not European car guys. I come from a long line of American muscle. For him to be interested in German-made cars, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, really? This is where we’re going to start, dude?’ Only because they’re like Swiss watches. They’re very, very precise, and uniquely engineered.”

Sam Wrigley said that the hardest part in putting the car together and getting it to run is the engine work.

“Engine work is the worst part,” Wrigley said. “The engine I have in there currently is a 1.8-liter turbo. All my head valves are screwy, so I’m going to have to replace that whole head, or just the valves. I don’t know how to work on engines, so that should be the hardest part for me.”

Sam Wrigley, an offensive and defensive linemen, admits he will miss football this fall but is trying to make the most of his time.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Sam Wrigley said. “It’s something that I put years into my life with lifting and conditioning and playing. It’s senior year, it’s supposed to be your last hurrah. You and your buddies try to go and finish off high school. To not have that, it really stinks.”

The oldest of seven children (five boys, two girls), Jeff Wrigley said Sam is not one to sulk. That includes when Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin to allow glucose to enter cells and produce energy.

“A few years ago, out of nowhere, and I was picking up on it more than he was, classic signs of diabetes started popping up,” Jeff Wrigley said. “A lot of drinking water, and (this was) when he was a freshman, and he was in the middle of his basketball season. He lost some weight after football, but I thought he was just going through a growing spell. I ended up having my father-in-law do a blood test on him, because he had Type 2 (diabetes). He (blood glucose level) tested at 469, and you’re supposed to be between 80-120. I called the pediatrician, and they’re like, ‘Get him to the (emergency room).

“We spent three days at Barbara Bush (Children’s Hospital in Portland), had a specialist look at him and say ‘Listen, this is not a handicap. This is just something you’re going to have to deal with. People have to breathe, people have to drink, you’re going to have to take insulin.’ He cried once. Since then, he’s picked up and run with it. He’s the oldest kid, he’s got Type 1 diabetes, I lean on him a lot, and he always responds well.”

Mt. Blue’s Sam Wrigley works on the four cylinder turbo motor of the 2001 Volkswagen Jetta he is building at his home Tuesday in Farmington. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Sam Wrigley is still hopeful for a baseball season in the spring. A pitcher who prides himself on his offspeed arsenal, he said he’d like to get in one last sports season before his high school career is through. He said he’s looking at possibly studying mechanical engineering after he’s done at Mt. Blue. Though he’s undecided where he’ll attend college, he’s hoping baseball will be part of the experience.

“I’m hoping to play baseball in the future,” Wrigley said. “It’s always been my first love. It’s what my dad loved, and it’s the sport I’ve played from kindergarten on.”

“Baseball has been his whole life, the only thing he wants to do is pitch in college,” Jeff Wrigley said. “He’s a naturally big, athletic kid.”

Whatever happens, Sam Wrigley will be ready. He’s good at pivoting.

 

Dave Dyer – 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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