“When I was younger and playing soccer, I always had extra pairs of cleats, and I would send them over to my family (in Jamaica),” Wanliss said. “I had so many pairs, and they were just lying around in the garage. So I packaged them up and sent them over to my cousin.”
So it was only natural that his senior project would be something similar.
“(The project) was open to do whatever I wanted to do, and I just came up with the idea basically of what I was doing earlier — sending over cleats. But at this time I was doing track,” he said. “I realized that a lot of my competitors, a lot of my friends, had extra pairs of spikes, and they were just lying there. I knew that there was a need in Jamaica, especially for kids around (middle-school) age.”
Wanliss crafted a business proposal, applied for a grant and decided that he was all in.
He started by collecting unused spikes from his teammates and packing them for shipment to Jamaica. He contacted other area schools to explain Spikes 4 Tykes, and they put out collection bins for spikes at track meets.
Wanliss said that his close-knit community was a major factor in the program’s liftoff.
But his initial expectations were meager, he said, and he just wanted to see the project come to some sort of fruition.
“I didn’t have a set goal, I just wanted to get spikes,” Wanliss said. “(But) it literally took off.”
After gathering 15 pairs of spikes at the first meet with the bins, Wanliss was ecstatic.
From then, the project only grew.
Peggy Shaw, director of public relations at Holy Innocents — and whom Wanliss described as instrumental in Spikes 4 Tyke’s development — said the school supported the program and wanted it to succeed as much as Wanliss did.
The support included posting about the organization on Facebook and Twitter and spreading the word throughout the community.
But the school could only do so much, and it was ultimately Wanliss’ success on the track that got people to notice.
“God gave me the talent to run track, and I did well,” said Wanliss, a three-time Georgia high school state champion in the 400 and state-record holder in the 800. “With me doing well, it brought a lot of publicity to the whole program.”
And though that attention was largely local, eventually national news outlets found Wanliss’ story.
None was bigger than Sports Illustrated, which featured Wanliss in its “Faces in the Crowd” section.
Yahoo! also ran an article about Spikes 4 Tykes after Wanliss broke the state record in the 800 at the state meet, and the program blew up nationwide.
“People read the story and thought, ‘This is great,’ and just started sending in spikes from all over,” Wanliss said, adding that he received calls from as far away as Oregon and New Mexico.
Shaw said she was surprised that the program took off so fast and attracted a national audience.
“I didn’t (expect it to take off like it did),” she said. “I think I can safely say that because I don’t think O’Neal did, either.”
Stacey Davis, one of Wanliss’ high school track coaches, said it was Wanliss’ work ethic and competitiveness that brought the program so much success.
“That’s just like O’Neal,” Davis said. “If he wants to do something, he takes it to the next level.”
The next level for Spikes 4 Tykes was getting the spikes to their destination.
Wanliss flew to Jamaica and hand-delivered 68 pairs to five schools on the Caribbean island.
“It was like Christmas, it was great,” Wanliss said. “I was just happy with how everything turned out. Everything really fell into place … to see that it all came together, it was like, ‘Wow, I actually did it.’”
Spikes 4 Tykes, which is now officially a non-profit organization with its own public relations firm and sponsors — including Home Depot and AirTran — has remained a large part of Wanliss’ life at UNC.
He continues to collect spikes from teammates and coaches, and he’s reached out to a number of Division I schools.
“Some schools in the ACC, some schools in the SEC,” Wanliss said. “Everyone’s just kind of jumping on board now.”
O’Neal Wanliss had an idea, and it worked.
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