- Associated Press - Sunday, January 26, 2014

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - “It’s nine hours and 13 minutes. Exactly.”

That’s what Ava Fullenweider said when asked how long it takes her to get from her home in New York to Joe Retton Arena on the campus of Fairmont State University, where her grandson, Shammgod Wells, plays basketball.

She knows the trip well. But, of course, so would you if you made it several times a month.

Fullenweider retired from her job as a high school principal to take time off to watch her grandson play basketball at the collegiate level, a deal the two of them made when he was in high school.

“We made a deal a couple of years ago that when he went to school and started college that it’d be about time for me to retire and it just happened to be that time,” she said. “I retired July 1st and he was in the summer school session and I told him I’d be down here to support him.”

You may have seen Fullenweider, or Miss Ava as the basketball team calls her, at basketball games, both men and women. She sits in the crowd like anyone else, waving her pom-poms or holding signs to show her support of the teams.

For her, basketball is more than a sport. It’s a family. And that’s the message she conveys to the young players she comes in contact with through the journey of Well’s start at FSU.

“I think that it’s important,” she said, keeping an eye on the women’s game going on at Joe Retton Arena as we spoke. “I not only embrace Shammgod but all of the fellas playing and it was like that in high school. I come with my pom-poms, ask how they’re feeling, if there’s something I can do for them. I go out to the dorms and check on everybody. Like Caleb (Davis) was sick so I got to talk to him and pep him up.”

Davis said that the time spent with his roommate’s grandmother has been special to him, with his family being hours away in North Carolina.

“Lately she just talks to me about getting healthy. She tells me to pray a lot,” the freshman point guard said.

And even though Davis talks to his mother every day on the phone, he still appreciates when Miss Ava checks in on him.

“I like it a lot. You always need someone to talk to. She acts just like my mom so she reminds me of my mom,” he said.

Fullenweider has been around basketball for most of her life, welcoming in Wells‘ father, God Shammgod, and informally adopting him into her family along with later being heavily involved in her grandson’s life on the hardwood.

Now, though, both father and son are in school and remain in athletics as Shammgod is an undergraduate student assistant coach at Providence, where he played his college ball.

“Big Shamm was with me for a long time. I kind of adopted him. I go to his games, too,” the 60-year-old Fullenweider said. “We all went up there to the UMASS game when Shamm was home to see his (dad’s) team play. It’s really important to support him, too. I want Shamm to know that it’s important to support each other. I spread myself thin but I love what I do.”

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