Cardinals guard Reggie Wells Jr. (right) and father Reggie Wells Sr. sit next to each other during their graduation ceremony at Clarion University Saturday.
Professional athletics stalled Reggie Wells' quest for his college diploma.
It did the same to his father.
The irony is, after both went back to finish at Pennsylvania's tiny Clarion University, they were able to graduate together.
Reggie Wells Jr., the Cardinals' starting left guard, and his father Reggie Sr. were the center of attention Saturday during Clarion's commencement ceremony, superstars at the small school from which every Wells family member – including mother Diane and younger brother Ryan – now owns a degree.
"It's been a process to get done, (and) it just worked out that we could do it at the same time," Wells Jr. said. "It was just a beautiful day, really."
Wells Jr. had always planned on finishing his college education even after he had made it with the Cardinals. But a plan to go home after his second year was scuttled because of injury rehab, forcing an elongated process of internships and on-line work.
But that was nothing compared to his father. Wells Sr. left Clarion after basketball season ended his senior year in an effort to play professionally. He played in Argentina and tried out with the Detroit Pistons. After that, he became a Pennsylvania state trooper, with school fading into the background.
"I could have kept playing but I thought it was time to settle down with a family and get started working," Wells Sr. said. "When I started working, other things came first."
The idea the two could graduate together came into focus about a year ago. Wells Jr. said it was his mom who pushed for it.
When it came to fruition last weekend, Diane Wells was near tears.
"From my perspective," she said, "the ceremony was breathtaking."
Those in attendance at the Clarion gym broke into a standing ovation when it was announced father and son would be graduating together. The athletic accomplishments of both at the school – the father is the second-leading scorer and rebounder in Clarion basketball history, while the son had his jersey retired as a four-year football starter – were read aloud.
That also brought extra applause.
"You go back and being a lineman, you don't expect that kind of reception," Wells Jr. said. "I think (my dad) signed more autographs than I did. We got a standing ovation. I know it's only a tiny gym, but you don't see something like that too much at a graduation ceremony."
The elder Wells got a degree in liberal studies with a minor in sociology. Only 50, he is only 2½ years from retirement from law enforcement and hopes to use his degree for a second career. He already is a successful high school girls basketball coach, his team having won the state championship this winter.
The younger Wells got a degree in communication, although with his well-paying day job it's unlikely he'll ever need to use it (Ryan is also a pro athlete, playing basketball in Sweden). Two days after the ceremony, Wells was back in Tempe, taking part in voluntary workouts with his teammates.
But it was important for Wells Jr. to get his degree. His father called his son "one of the brightest people I know," and for Wells Jr. to be able to graduate with his dad was important.
"To walk those halls and to see (my dad's) picture on the Hall of Fame wall and the all-American wall, it really puts things in perspective, what kind of family you come from and what kind of man he was," Wells Jr. said. "Every day it made it easier seeing that he did it. If this is something you love, which this is something we love as a family, you have to attack it full-blast. He taught us that way back when. It was never about becoming the next Reggie."
And for Wells Sr., getting his own diploma Saturday wasn't really the point, either.
"I was just so happy and proud of him," Wells Sr. said of his son. "It was almost like, for the moment, I forgot why I was up there."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 5/13/08.