By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A recent graduate of Norman North High School is heading off to college soon like many other students across the nation, but he’s leaving something behind that the community will benefit from after his absence.
William Long was recently recognized by the Norman Public Schools Board of Education for initiating a new program. He came up with the idea of “Soccer for Everyone” while talking to his friend who has a brother with a mental disability.
“He was telling me that his brother would probably not be attending college. Of course it sounds like a very practical suggestion, but to me for the first time it sounded very, very alien. Everyone goes to college and that was sort of a wake-up call,” Long told board members recently. “These kids have very limited opportunities in life.”
Since soccer is a big thing in Norman and he himself played for five or six years, it was a natural choice for him to provide children with disabilities the opportunity to play the sport. He pitched the idea to the Norman Youth Soccer Association and they put it on the ground, he said.
“They actually put in hard money and they were able to dedicate so much of their staff. They’ve been very supportive of the idea. All I really did was suggest that this might be a good idea,” he said.
This past spring was the first year for “Soccer for Everyone” and Long said it was a success. Once a week the children and volunteers get together to practice, shoot goals and play a few soccer games for roughly an hour.
“We had about 40 kids, parents, coaches, soccer players, who all were very interested and supportive of helping these kids, one-on-one, play soccer,” he said. “They had very different skill abilities, but I think one thing they all shared in common was their enjoyment for just being outside if nothing else.”
There were 30 kids who signed up and then they had to add a registration cap and create a wait list. Overall, he said there were about 40 families registered for the program and about 40 volunteers as well.
While Long will be off to college soon, the program will continue in his absence and Norman Public School’s Special Education teacher Ronna Hatfield will take the reins.
“She’s a great special education teacher. She was a volunteer during the season and she was always there, always helping out,” he said. “Next fall after I head off to college, I really look forward to continued success under new leadership under Ronna Hatfield.”
Long said overall it was a great opportunity and he learned a lot for the experience that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many people who were there every step of the way.
“Because of Will and partnership with Norman Youth Soccer Association and Norman Public Schools, some very special students were able to enjoy soccer these past few months,” said Justin Milner, NPS Director of Special Services.
“As we all know, Will’s no stranger to recognition. He’s a very talented and hardworking student. This recognition’s a little different because it’s not about recognizing his intelligence, but rather his heart.”
NPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano also commented on Long’s successful program and the kind of students, who like Long, represent their families and school district well.
“I think at the heart of what he does is certainly special about him, but also I believe it’s representative of what high school kids do today. They are engaged kids and you can find hundreds and hundreds of examples of it,” Siano said. “I think we as public school board people and educators need to remind communities of kids like Will because he represents really what our high school kids are about.”
Long will attend college at Harvard in the fall, most likely doing something business related with a technology background, but he said he is still very open to other studies.
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