Ed­mond Memo­rial staff has unique con­nec­tion with school

The Oklahoman - - SPORTS - ED­MOND — Ja­cob Un­ruh jun­ruh@ oklahoman.com

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...

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