Edmond Memorial staff has unique connection with school
Inside a small room lined with gray-padded walls, Logan Thomas slapped palms with a young student, sharing a spirited high-five and an animated celebration worthy of the moment.
The boy, a special education student, had just completed a handstand on the south side of Edmond Memorial High School’s campus. Thomas was pumped. Others nearby were, too.
“I love it,” Thomas said, wearing navy dress pants and a white polo shirt. His role as Edmond Memorial’s co-special teams coordinator was lost in the moment.
To that student and many others at Edmond Memorial, Thomas isn’t a football coach. Neither are the other football coaches within the special education department. They’re teachers and friends.
At a time when more and more big-school coaches are taking administrative roles outside classrooms, seven Edmond Memorial coaches likely have one of the toughest jobs on campus. They’re special education teachers or teacher’s assistants.
They teach students basic curriculum, but at a different pace. Everyday tasks such as cooking and laundry. Problem solving is covered, too. And more paperwork is required than the average teacher.
A two-hour football practice each day means a lot to the coaches, but those pale in comparison to the daily impact they have on 20-plus special education students.
“They need that personally and professionally to be identified as something other than that person out on the field,” Edmond Public Schools athletic director Mike Nunley said. “It gives them a different identity.”
Edmond Memorial head coach Justin Merideth understands this concept better than most. He’s been a special education teacher since he graduated from Northeastern State.
Now, he’s got Thomas and offensive line coach Ryan McCaul on staff and as special education teachers. Assistants Mkwai Williams, Chris Malone, Dion Vickers and Kameron Doolittle are all special education teacher’s assistants.
“You have to have a different kind of personality to do this
job,” Merideth said. “I think that’s what spills over into the football part of it. I think they have unique ways of how they coach. Maybe a little bit more patient, maybe a little bit more open to different learning styles. I think that carries over, and I think that’s a positive.”
A long-standing relationship
Logan Thomas and Ryan McCaul had no way
around special education.
McCaul watched his mom teach special education nearly his entire life. After college, he realized he wanted to coach. He obtained his special education certification to follow his mom’s path but also his heart.
Now in his fifth year at Memorial, he’s teaching math and English to students along with coping skills. He can see one of his students at a game Friday and know he’s made a difference.
“It’s all about relationships in here,” McCaul said.
A 2009 Memorial graduate, Thomas’ aunt runs the district’s special education department. He had helped students when he was in school. He still helps former students.
After getting his master’s degree from Oklahoma State, it was natural that he returned to his alma mater.
“We’ve got a lot of freshmen who really struggle with daily living stuff,” Thomas said. “They don’t need to know who the fifth president of the United States is. They need to know how to take care of themselves, hygiene
and job skills. We can focus more on that stuff instead of an academicdriven path.”
It’s also an escape from being a coach. A missed tackle on Friday night doesn’t mean as much seeing one of the special education students learn something essential or just smile the next day.
“I don’t know how people just teach,” Thomas said. “If I’ve had a rough day in here, I get to totally change my environment and go to football for two hours, or vice versa.
“It’s a little bit of a therapy thing for me as well.”
A special connection
Kameron Doolittle played for Justin Merideth before playing at Oklahoma State. The older brother of former Memorial star and current Oklahoma basketball player Kristian Doolittle, he watched Merideth coach and teach special education.
Now, Kameron Doolittle is home as a freshman assistant coach and teacher’s assistant in the special education department.
“I take pride in being there for the kids and take pride in learning who they are and making sure I’m doing the best job for them,” Kameron said.
Merideth hopes he’s had an impact on his players. He hopes they’re willing to help others. He hopes they’re someday as fulfilled as him.
“This has broadened my horizons,” Doolittle said. “It’s a lot different than what people realize.”
Doolittle remembered the handstand and smiled. It’s those small moments that make every day special.
“I think you realize that losing a football game is not the end of the world,” Merideth said. “I think they just really enjoy it.”
Edmond Memorial coaches are also special education teachers and assistants at the school: seated, left, Mkwai Williams, and Justin Merideth, seated right. Standing, from left, are Kameron Doolittle, Logan Thomas, Ryan McCaul, Dion Vickers and Chris Malone.