Boyd Street Magazine January 2024

Page 1


BOYD STREET January 2024 • Issue 1 • Volume 23

Bridges of Norman

Prom 2.0

Women’s Gymnastics

Defending the Crown

What’s Eating Norman




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what’s inside



13 What’s Happening

Norman’s community calendar for January

14 Cultivating a Better Future

New adult wellness and education center addresses a full wellness spectrum.

18 Prom 2.0

Bridges of Norman hosts annual event to support local teens.

22 Prioritizing Health

Strategies for a transformative fitness journey from local fitness experts.

36 OU Gymnastics Previews The Sooner women and men look to capture titles once again.

44 Norman Standouts Commit to OU


Rising stars choose Sooners for college soccer.

48 Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders

on the cover

NPS launches innovative program for high school students to earn associate degree.



50 Striving to be the Best

January 2024 • Issue 1 • Volume 23

Norman Regional is home to six Centers of Excellence.

54 Cleveland County on the Cusp

President and CEO of NEDC provides update on the county.



New Year, New Money Habits

58 Joe’s Wine & Spirits

Bridges of Norman

Prom 2.0

Chardonnay, chablis, champagne

28 Mr. Reliable


Detective Brett Weller


What’s Eating Norman


A legend’s son and former walk-on cements his own place in Sooner history.

62 What’s Eating Norman 66 Service Spotlight

Women’s Gymnastics

Defending the Crown



Cover photo by: Mark Doescher

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COM IN G IN F E B RUA RY 2/10 - Daddy Daughter Dance - Girl Power 2/8-10 Sooner Theatre Murder Mystery Dinner - Murder in the Newsroom






New Adult Wellness and Education Center Addresses a Full Wellness Spectrum


orman residents celebrated the opening of the new Adult Wellness and Education Center in November. Jason Olsen, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Norman, called the facility, “a long time coming” for the Norman community.

The center will offer personal training, group exercise classes, pickleball, drawing, painting, pottery, mixed media, floral design and healthy cooking classes. Additional enrichment activities will be held at the center including seminars, movie nights and festivals.

It’s the first new recreational facility built in Norman since 1975.

“If you look at the studies done by numerous major medical institutions, staying fit and staying busy are important for not only your physical strength but for your cognitive strength and your mental well-being. We provide all those services,” said Art Chapman, Tai Chi instructor.

On Nov. 13, 2023, the center opened at 602 N Findlay Avenue in Norman. A part of the ongoing Norman Forward quality of life initiative passed by voters in 2015, the $14 million facility totals 30,000 sq. ft. and includes a pool, walking track, several multipurpose rooms, fitness spaces and a teaching kitchen. “Our residents of Norman believed in us wanting a better future and wanted to invest in our community,” Olsen said in his grand opening remarks. 14 | January 2024

The facility is laid out to have one side with artistic and cognitive wellness spaces, and the other side has a physical wellness gym and fitness spaces, including a saltwater pool. The wellness center will also offer seminars covering topics such as insurance and navigating Medicare, as well as technology and technical classes.


“We wanted to address the full wellness spectrum,” said Veronica Tracy, recreation manager. “We’ve got our big fitness spaces, our walking track and our locker rooms and additional spaces, so whether you’re here to work out, or work out your brain, or even do some art, we’ve got it all covered.” Much of the planning and building took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, with board members working over Zoom to bring the project together. There were also delays in construction due to building material shortages, due to the pandemic. Several locations were considered for the center including the former Norman Central Library, Andrews Park and Reaves Park, but a location in central Norman on the grounds of the Norman Regional Hospital’s Porter location was finally settled on as the ideal spot. Individual monthly memberships are $35 per month. Family memberships for two age 50+ individuals are $60 per month. Guests can use the facility for $10 per person daily. To learn more, visit– BSM



P ROM 2 .0

Bridges Host Annual Event to Support Local Teens 18 | January 2024



or Bridges of Norman, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students through alternate housing and related services, an upcoming annual fundraiser helps make daily life possible for a growing group of youth seeking positive change. The organization’s 11th annual Prom 2.0 event, for ages 21 and up, will take place Feb. 3 at The Nest at Terra Verde, 800 36th Ave in Norman. “When members of Leadership Norman came together more than a decade ago to set up a fundraiser for Bridges, they decided to play on the high school theme of who we serve with a second take on prom as a community event,” said Stacy Bruce, executive director. “We have candidates that form our prom royalty and the couple who raises the most money wins the honor. “It’s your chance to do prom over again, complete with all the usual features: great music, light food, dancing and fun.” More than 300 guests are anticipated to attend. This year’s Candyland theme lends itself to a 70s atmosphere, with Oklahoma City disco and funk band Superfreak performing and related dress encouraged. “This is our singular event of the year to support our extraordinary kids who are focused on graduating high school,” said Bruce. “While it is a terrific time with some of the most fun people in Norman, I never want to lose sight of the fact that it is fun with a purpose - which is to offset living expenses for students who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in living circumstances where they need support.” Bridges’ mission is “to empower high school students in family crisis to pursue education without obstacles.” Formerly known as Independent Living Services for Youth (ILSY), Bridges seeks to set students up for success despite adverse circumstances beyond their control through planned intervention, including residential and non-residential outreach.

“Through our program, we are meeting critical needs so our students can become productive members of our community,” said Bruce. “We are at capacity in our youth apartments, with expansion planned for the future.” Students who participate in Bridges are required to attend high school and be employed, in addition to meeting short- and long-term goals. Maintaining a minimum GPA and having a plan for after graduation is also part of the program. Although their parents or guardians do not relinquish custody, Bridges participants learn life skills through residential and non-residential programs, like how to set up a budget, cook, clean, study and manage their priorities. “What I wish the community better understood about the students we serve is that they have done nothing wrong to be in these situations,” said Bruce. “They are trying to make the best of life through difficult circumstances.” Tickets to Prom 2.0 are $50 and a half-table for a group of four is $500. “Even if you cannot attend, please consider purchasing a ticket,” invited Bruce. “It means the world to our students because we are making their world possible. “Funding goes directly to school supplies, apartment supplies, emergency food, clothing and other expenses like Vital Records to get an ID or social security card or job-related expenses - all the little things teens would normally have access to in a family setting.” Find more information at – BSM

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P R IO RI TI ZING HEALTH Strategies for a Transformative Fitness Journey from Local Fitness Experts


f you’re prioritizing fitness, co-owners of Burn Boot Camp, Alisha Jones and Casey Christian, advocate steering clear of gimmicks and quick fixes. Instead, focus on setting realistic goals aimed at lasting lifestyle changes, advises the fitness experts. “People should focus on one change at a time,” explained Christian. For instance, if you’re new to working out, set a goal to exercise once or twice a week.

22 | January 2024

“Once you’ve nailed that, move on to something else,” she encouraged. “Starting a new lifestyle is difficult, so you need to take one step at a time, which is why we offer 15-minute focus meetings to go over goals.” Jones emphasized that reframing motivation also helps maintain consistency. “It’s not about losing a bunch of weight,” she said. “I had to learn it is so much more than that, both mentally and physically. Once you get into


it, you’ll realize you want to be there to get strong and play with your kids and grandkids and want that healthy lifestyle. “Making it attainable is the only way to fit it into your busy life. Make it doable so you’re still there in six to twelve months, seeing those results you need.” Burn Boot Camp, located at 1344 N Interstate Drive in Norman, offers challenging and transformative 45-minute workouts comprising of an active warm-up, a challenging workout and a finisher. Having started as a member when the Norman location opened, Jones fell in love with the program and eventually bought half of the franchise. Christian, a trainer at Burn Boot Camp, bought the other half, making them full owners in 2019. The partners expanded their venture by opening another Burn Boot Camp location in March of this year, located at 849 SW 119th Street in Oklahoma City. “We feature high-intensity interval training and a mixture of strength and conditioning,” Christian said. “Our protocols and workouts are never going to be the same every week. This helps keep people from being bored.” Jones said what distinguishes Burn Boot Camp from other workout centers is that every personal trainer is a certified national trainer. Although some camps have over 40 people, everyone receives one-on-one attention. “We are community based,” Christian added. “Our members root and cheer for each other. It is the most awesome atmosphere around. We high five each other, have big smiles and just have fun. “It can be scary to come into a community, but we work hard to make everyone feel welcome. We’re all strong and we’re all rooting for each other and want everyone to achieve their goals.” Members can sign up a week in advance, and the first week for new members is always free, except in January when four weeks of camp are just $69. Free child watch is included with memberships . For more information, visit– BSM


The Sooner Theatre Presents Written by Patrick Rieger and Andy Rieger with song lyrics by Karen Rieger

in the Newsroom

A murderously funny dinner and show benefiting the programs and productions of The Sooner Theatre

February 8, 9 & 10

Your paragraph text

Stop the presses! The suspicious death of a sports editor has everyone at the local paper on edge. Could the killer be the editor-in-chief? A petty PTA parent? Or maybe the photographer did it? Join us for a night that’s black, white, and read all over in… Murder in the Newsroom! The Sooner Theatre nervously presents their annual musical murder mystery dinner fundraiser. Although this fabulously funny, not-quite-right dinner and show helps support all programs of The Sooner Theatre, the evening is for adults only. Cash bar available. Tickets: $100 per person $1000 for a table of 10 | 405.321.9600

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28 | January 2024

M R. R E L I A B L E



klahoma football needed someone to stand up and show there was still something to play for in 2023. Sooner fans needed to know that, despite heartbreaking back-to-back losses, it all still mattered, and the Sooners were not going to fade away. Much like his father did when the Sooners were left without a coach following the 2021 season, Drake Stoops stepped up and delivered the message that everyone needed to hear. “For me, there’s a lot left to play for,” Drake said. “I bust my tail year-round for this, for six years now. So, I’m not listening to what people say. I don’t care if we’re 0-8 right now, I’m playing ball because I love to play football. “I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I love the University of Oklahoma. I have a lot of pride in this place. So, I’m going to go hard every single day and do everything I possibly can to see us win.” The Sooner Nation needed a spark, and during that media session after practice, the Sooner legend provided just that. Much like he did many times on the field. The charge and challenge worked. Drake set career highs in two of his final three games and helped lead the Sooners to a 10-win season in his final season in a Sooner uniform.

OU DNA Drake blazed his own path, and his final act was among the most impressive. From walkon to crucial part of OU’s offense, he built a legacy that stands on its own. The path to Oklahoma was one that he knew well. His legendary father Bob Stoops is the all-time winningest coach at Oklahoma and football was always part of Drake’s life. “Growing up in a coach’s family like I did, being around football all my life, gave me a different perspective on the game and the college football world,” Drake said. “Seeing my dad work so hard really instilled in me that I wanted to do that for myself, but I didn’t want to ride his coattails. I wanted to work hard myself and chase something within myself.” Drake starred as a multi-sport athlete at Norman North, but on the gridiron is where he truly shined. He finished his high school career with 201 catches for 3,390 yards and 39 touchdowns and, during his senior season, he caught 67 passes for 1,093 yards and 15 scores. He also helped lead Norman North to its secBOYD STREET MAGAZINE | 29

ond-ever State Championship game during his junior season when he caught 86 passes for 1,536 yards and scored 20 TDs. Despite being viewed as undersized coming out of high school, Drake had several full scholarship offers to play college football including from his father’s alma mater Iowa. Other schools like Memphis, Ohio, Western Kentucky, and Air Force were interested, but he decided to bet on himself. Drake spurned the scholarship offers and decided to walk on at the University of Oklahoma. “That’s always been my goal to make my own name and do something with my own life,” Stoops said of growing up around Oklahoma football. “It was an incredible influence. Seeing what it looked like, how much it would take and watching the players and admiring them. They were superheroes to me. “Now, being in that position, it’s definitely come full circle and I’m glad I had that growing up because it gave me a lot of perspective and a lot of insight on what it was going to take.”

BUILDING THE FOUNDATION Drake caught a pass in his very first college football game. It came with 11:20 to go in the first half of a blowout win over Florida Atlantic. As soon as the catch was made the crowd roared with the chant of Stoooooooooops. The chat would stick and be a constant cheer every time he touched the football during his Sooner career. “Hearing my name has always meant a lot to me,” Drake said of the chant. “Just embracing me like that. I don’t know — it’s made me my own man, and kind of stepping out of my dad’s shadow, which was hard for me early on in my career. It just feels almost like vindication for a lot of hard work and adversity.”

But adversity would hit in a way that no one could have imagined after the end of the 2021 regular season. Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to take the head coach job at USC. Bob Stoops would return to serve as the interim coach for the Sooners in the Alamo Bowl game against Oregon. Bob Stoops would finally get to coach his boy. Despite having retired before ever getting to coach Drake in a Sooner uniform, Bob Stoops finally got the opportunity and Drake made the most of it. Drake scored a touchdown in the Sooners’ 47-32 triumph against the Ducks, adding to an experience that Bob Stoops described as “a chance of a lifetime.” “It was really awesome,” Bob Stoops said after the Alamo Bowl. “What a chance of a lifetime to be on the field with my son one time and to win the game, but it was more than that. I have such an investment in the University of Oklahoma and OU football, so to help them finish the season in a positive way was really cool.” Under a new head coach and a new offense, Drake saw a bigger role in the offense and started 10 games. He finished the season posting 39 catches for 393 yards and three touchdowns — all career highs. “Just a baller,” Venables said. “Just always doing the little things right. Whether he’s cracking somebody to set up a run or a screenplay or making the third-down catch - making the extraordinary catch look ordinary - then his ability to run after the catch is different. He bounces off guys. He breaks a lot of tackles. He runs through trash, can make guys miss in a phone booth. “His toughness and grit - that’s what you want in your whole program” The strong finish to the 2022 season left Drake with a decision, play another season in the Crimson and Cream or take a shot at the NFL. Drake decided to return.

While the two catches during his first career game would be his only two catches of the season, it was historic. It’s believed to be the first and only time in Sooner history that a true freshman walk-on recorded a catch in a season opener.

The son of a legend, who walked on to the school where his dad became a Hall of Famer, developed into a difference maker and an NFL prospect but chose to return for a sixth season.

His reps and opportunities increased during his sophomore season, but he started to break out during his third season in a Sooner uniform. After missing the season opener in 2020, Drake registered his first career touchdown against Kansas State, finishing with a career high at the time of three catches for 93 yards.

Drake has caught passes from nine different quarterbacks during his time in a Sooner uniform. But no one clicked with Drake like Dillon Gabriel did. Heading into the Alamo Bowl, Drake has more touchdowns during the 2023 season than he did in his previous 5 years combined.

But the most memorable moment of that season for Drake was his game-winning touchdown catch against Texas as the Sooners won in four overtimes. He finished the season with 15 catches for 219 yards and two scores. After receiving a scholarship before the 2021 season, Drake stayed consistent, catching 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. 30 | January 2024


He’s also nearly doubled his career catches and yardage in one season alone. “Drake is … he’s unreal, honestly. He’s always open. He’s a competitor. He’s my best friend,” Gabriel said. “The way he plays, it’s inspiring and it’s motivating and having a guy like him right by me is something I’m grateful for.”


In back-to-back games this season against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Drake went over the 100-yard mark in receiving yards in a game for the first time in his career. In the loss to Oklahoma State, Drake caught 12 balls for 134 yards.

that’s discrediting all the work Drake has put into his career, his instincts, his consistency and his ability to make plays. He’s special. Players love being around him. I’m really thankful for what he brings to the locker room every single day.

Against West Virginia, Drake caught 10 balls for a career-high 164 yards and scored a career-high three touchdowns in a statement win for the Sooners that sparked a 3-game winning streak to finish the season.

“That’s who he’s been, man - Mr. Reliable.”

“He was one of them guys that did the dirty work, setting the example,” fellow receiver Jalil Farooq said. “He didn’t need no camera in front of him to put the work in.” Drake finished with over 100 yards receiving in three of the last four games, setting and matching a career high for catches. “He’s just tough,” Venables said. “People say he’s a coach’s kid, but he’s a fantastic football player. I think 32 | January 2024

Drake’s season totals are even more impressive. He finished the regular season leading the Big 12 in receptions (78) and receiving touchdowns (10), and he also ranks second in receiving yards (880). He is enjoying the best campaign of his six-year career. And even though it’s coming to an end, his legacy at OU continues to grow.

THE LEGACY “He’s had to overcome a lot, one being a coach’s kid, right?” Venables said. “He walked on, but he never was bitter about the things that he’s had to overcome. He’s allowed his name and his opportunity to be a

blessing. When it’s time to compete, he loves to compete and he doesn’t care who it’s against.” The son of a legend has blazed his own path. His goal coming out of high school has been accomplished. “He is OU football,” former Sooner offensive coordinator and current Mississippi State coach Jeff Lebby said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this for 20-25 more years, I might not ever have the opportunity to coach a guy like Drake Stoops again. I’m just so proud of what he’s been able to accomplish.” “He’s exhausting this moment in his life,” Venables said. “I love that. As opposed to hurrying up to get onto the next thing like everybody else tries to get you to do, he’s like, ‘No, college is too fun, and I’ve got a lot of developing still to do.’ “There are no mulligans. You get one chance. So, make the most of college, which, as we all know, is the most transformational time of your life. It’s going

to be one of the most enriching times in your life and help propel you for the rest of your life. He’s got wisdom beyond his years.” Drake is a five-time Academic All-Big 12 honoree and in 2022 was nominated for the Campbell Trophy, known as college football’s “academic Heisman.” He stays involved in the community and is active with many different charities including Meals on Wheels. Drake did what he set out to do, in the shadow of one of the biggest names in the history of Oklahoma Sooner Football. He forged his own legacy, one that will serve as a foundation for years to come in the Oklahoma locker room and amongst Sooner fans. “You don’t really know your impact and your legacy until you’re gone, and you look back,” Drake said. “I would want to be remembered as a good teammate, a good leader, someone that was always doing the right thing, whatever it takes to see his team win.”– BSM BOYD STREET MAGAZINE | 33


GYM U Women 36 | January 2024



J Kindler has built a dynasty with the Oklahoma Women’s Gymnastics team. Grand expectations and championship aspirations are nothing new for the Sooners. Oklahoma has won six of the last nine NCAA team titles and the titles in 2022 and 2023 mark the second time they’ve won back-to-back crowns, having been national champions in 2016 and 2017. As the Sooners prepare to tackle a challenging 2024 schedule, they will look to become just the third program in women’s gymnastics to win three straight national titles and the first since Georgia in 2005, 2006 and 2007. “Because the expectation is there, because you’re the favorite, people are expecting (so much),” said OU Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach KJ Kindler. “It was the hardest thing we did that year (2017). You put yourself in that position, and you got to be able to handle that.” Kindler enters her 18th season as the Sooner head coach and while the program has never been stronger, it’s hard not to reflect on the incredible success over the last 10 seasons. “I always remember there is that intense pressure after you win to go win again. The comparison between the two championships are so immensely different, not just the journey but the actual championships,” Kindler said. “Our team led the whole meet, but it is difficult to lead. I almost feel like the year before when we came from behind was more glorious, but at the same time the ability to lead and keep your lead the whole time is more difficult and more stressful. I’m so proud of those women and our seniors … we’re missing them.” But any amount of reflection on the past is short lived. Kindler and her veteran staff including Lou Ball, Tom Haley and Ashley Kerr are


OU S P O RT S always focused on what’s next, pushing to be better year in and year out. And the key to matching the title run of the past two seasons starts at an event that Kindler is all too familiar with. “As a coach, you’re always projecting forward,” Kindler said. “It’s not that you’re not in the moment, but because you’re out there recruiting. You know what you have to replace. “On beam this season, that is probably the biggest impact - trying to find that athlete who is going to be your starter and get your team off to a good beginning.” Dunn had been a beam specialist for Oklahoma for all four of the seasons she competed for the Sooners. Trautman, who will be joining the Sooners in 2024 as an assistant coach, wrapped up her distinguished career with 10 All-American honors including two on beam. Now Kindler is challenged to replace the historic production. “We’re still going back and forth on our options and what the best decision to make is. We’re trying different things,” Kindler said of the competition on the beam. “We have some ideas and strategies that we’re still considering. We have so many good balance beam performers and we have talented depth.” Even with the lost production of Trautman and a record-setting senior class, the Sooner lineup is loaded. Junior Jordan Bowers returns after winning a pair of NCAA All-America honors (on floor and in the all-around). In her career, she has now notched 12 All-America honors and in doing so joined OU legend Maggie Nichols as the only Sooners in program history to garner five regular-season All-America honors. Katherine (Kat) LaVasseur returns after claiming All-American honors on the vault last season and 4-time NCAA All-American Ragan Smith is back looking to set the career mark for perfect tens. She is currently second in Sooner history with five and has added to her difficulty on the vault. “As a team, I think vault is most impressive right now because we have so many 10,0 start values,” Kindler said. “That’s something that all coaches across the country are aiming for and it’s a very difficult thing to do.” Add in the return of All-Americans like Danielle Seavers, Danae Fletcher and Audrey Davis and the Sooner line-up is loaded. “We’re very much an all-around team. We’re strong on all four events and we have some newcomers that are going to make a huge impact,” Kindler said. “Freshmen Keira Wells and Hannah Scheible will be on two or three events and if they aren’t in those events, they are going to be the alternate knocking on the door. Excited to add them to the mix.” 38 | January 2024

Wells and Sheible were two of the top recruits in the country. Despite joining a roster loaded with All-Americans, both have an opportunity to be major contributors in their first season in Norman. “They are both national vault champions and both are in the vault lineup. At our inter-squad, in their very first meet, they both scored 9.9.” Kindler said of the impressive freshmen. “Those two are dynamos. They have a lot of promise and I’m super excited about them.” Faith Torrez wowed in her first season at Oklahoma. The Bristol, Wisconsin product was a first-team All-American on the vault and floor and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. During the offseason, she got even better. “We saw Faith do an incredible job last year. She is on fire, better than she has ever been,” Kindler said. “She’s only a sophomore but she has come into her own. Her personality is showing through. Excited about the progress she made in the offseason.” As the loaded roster prepares for another run at a National Championship, Kindler has not relied on the same approach year in and year out. And with an increasingly difficult schedule ahead, Oklahoma is prepared to defend its crown with a solid balance of veteran leadership and talented newcomers. “We put some new strategies in place and I feel good about it,” Kindler said. “There are a lot of challenges along the way, and I feel like we’re in a really good place. “I love the chemistry of this team. I love their comradery. I love the way they are feeding off each other. These women have taken charge, and you just love to see that.” With high expectations, a loaded roster and an exciting schedule, the 2024 Oklahoma Women’s Gymnastics team will be appointment viewing. The only thing missing is you. “Sooner Nation, we need to pack the LNC,” Kindler said. “That place needs to be full, not a seat available. We can’t wait to see you there.”– BSM



he Oklahoma Men’s Gymnastics team has long been the standard in collegiate men’s gymnastics. The Sooners have won 12 National Championships including four in a row from 2015 to 2018. Under the guidance of legendary head coach Mark Williams, the Sooners have captured 53 individual national title honors and have developed 335 All-Americans. Despite history and tradition and years of continued success, the hunted has become the hunter. Stanford has won the last four National Championships, and the Sooners are looking to recapture the title and bring it home to Norman. “You’d like to be on top and stay on top… It’s a good place to be. But a lot of times, it’s a little bit different game when you’re coming up from behind and you’re the underdog,” Williams said of chasing Stanford. “In a lot of ways, it forces me to kind of go back and make sure I’m flexible, I’m changing things and I’m doing things differently for the team chemistry. “I’m always questioning how we can be better and how we can meet that standard that is in front of us.” Despite coming up short of the title in 2023, Williams may have completed one of his best coaching jobs. Battling through injury and adversity, the Sooners still notched a fourth place finish last year. Wiliams and the team never gave up, and now a unique and deep roster will look to take the Sooners back to the top of the mountain.


“I think we have experience. Last year, we lost some guys to injury, and we were scrambling during 2023,” Williams said. “But the good news coming out of our intrasquad was that we had five guys for each team competing on every event. We’re ten deep on all the apparatus and we haven’t been that deep in a while. That’s a positive.” BOYD STREET MAGAZINE | 39


40 | January 2024

BY: CHRIS PLANK Oklahoma lost four graduating seniors, and all were 5th-year student athletes who took advantage of the extra COVID year. With eight true freshmen and several stars returning from injury, the Sooners may be even deeper despite the production that was lost.

now… but there is a pretty big separation between that level and where Stanford and Oklahoma have been,” Williams acknowledged. “With Stanford, it’s been a good rivalry. We’re excited we get the chance to meet Stanford once or twice a year.”

“Getting Fuzzy Benas back, who had been a phenom his freshman year but was out all of last year with shoulder surgery, an Achilles tendon injury and surgery to his hand, has been huge,” Williams said. “He looks better than ever. He’s leading us back as a redshirt sophomore along with Jack Freeman who is one of our captains.

One thing that Williams has consistently done is schedule a challenging slate for the Sooners to prepare them for the postseason. Oklahoma will make trips to Ann Arbor and Palo Alto to challenge themselves against Michigan and Stanford, and to prove the importance of growing the sport, the Sooners battle Simpson College on the road as well.

“Dan Simmons is a captain and I call him Diesel Dan because you can’t stop the kid. He just keeps going. Along with Zach Nunez, who is also a senior, they’ve been doing a really good job of leading this young group into a place where we are in better shape than we were last year.”

“We’ve put together a very challenging schedule, facing the top three teams at the NCAA Championships last season – Illinois, Michigan and Stanford, twice – all away from home,” Williams said. “We’re excited to be hosting the conference championships in Norman at the end of the regular season, and then finishing up with the national championships at Ohio State.

In 2022, Benas was named CGA Rookie of the Year and earned All-American in the all-around. Having his skill and athleticism back is a big deal for the Sooners. But not many Sooners created as much buzz as junior Emre Dodanli did during the off-season. Dodanli earned a place on Turkey’s National Team after his performance at the FIG World Artistic Gymnastics Championships held in Belgium. “Dodanli went to the World Champ for Turkey and Turkey had never qualified for the Olympics. He was on a team that got them there so he’s going to be competing in Paris next year with the Turkish national team,” Williams said of Dodanli. “That’s pretty impressive. He’s been a kid that’s improved a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s competed in four events for us, and he’s excited about doing pommel horse and rings which are events he hasn’t always been the best at. “He’s elevating us, his floor, his vault, his high bar is amazing. A lot of guys are having to respond to keep up with Emre.” In the middle of building a Championship roster and trying to chase down Stanford, Williams has been integral in the continued growth of men’s gymnastics at the Division I level. Currently, only 15 schools compete in men’s gymnastics on the Division I level and that number only grew to that size last year with the addition of Greenville and Simpson College. Even amid a heated chase for the top spot, Williams is still bullish on building the sport and trying to increase the competitive balance from top to bottom. “We’re excited about that expansion, and we certainly want to grow the number of teams from where it is

“Our away schedule, competing at Illinois, at Michigan and at Stanford, creates really difficult competitions where we’re going to have to be at our best during the regular season. Those will be events where we’ll have to rise to the occasion knowing those are very good teams, and not getting to face them at home makes it a little more challenging.” The Sooners will also welcome the return of the MPSF Championships to Norman and McCasland Field House for the first time since 2019. The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation is the conference home for Sooners Men’s Gymnastics and the last time McCasland Field House hosted the Championship the Sooners walked away with the title. At that time, it was their eight of nine consecutive MPSF titles. The 2024 Oklahoma Men’s Gymnastics team is as deep as it has been in years. As Williams begins the pursuit of National Championship number 13, he knows one of the biggest difference makers is the health of his squads and for the Sooners to continue to have a difference-making home crowd. “We hear from the other teams. They don’t like coming to the Field House because it’s a big advantage for us,” Williams said of the home crowd difference. “They’re loud, they’re into it… they know the gymnastics. “We’ve had the highest home attendance in the sport for a while now and we have all our meets are televised on ESPN+. Opponents know they must be on their game when they come in. We need our crowd to continue to be a difference maker.”– BSM


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Elle Canty

Rising Stars Choose Sooners for College Soccer 44 | January 2024



pair of Norman girls’ soccer standouts have verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma. Juniors and Class of 2025 prospects Callie Sullivan of Norman North and Elle Canty of Community Christian announced their respective commitments to the Sooners during the fall. Sullivan, a 6-foot goalkeeper for the Timberwolves, chose OU over interest from schools such as Oklahoma State, Iowa and North Texas. “I’m really excited about it,” Sullivan said. “As soon as I went on my visit there, it was just kind of a gut feeling that it was the right place for me. I think we’ve got a good group coming in for that year, so I think it’ll be really good.” Meanwhile, Canty picked the Sooners over schools such as Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Purdue and Texas Tech. Though the 5-foot-7 midfielder initially thought she might want to go to college somewhere out of state, Canty said she and her family knew Norman was also the right spot after their visit. “The coaching staff and the girls, everything about it,” Canty said. “Being in the SEC and their mindset, it just fit me perfectly.” For both, first-year OU head coach Matt Mott and his staff were a key selling point. Canty left her visit with the understanding that Mott and the rest of OU’s staff genuinely had her best interests at heart. “I didn’t really know any of the coaching staff going into it, but I didn’t go to any camps either,” Canty said. “I clicked with Coach Mott instantly - his energy, just the urge to win, the competitiveness. He’s also just a good person. “He was not trying to sell me to OU. He wanted the best for me, and I could just tell. The other staff members, I just loved, too. They’re all completely different, they all have different personalities, but I clicked with them. It was just like a family.” Mott and Co. created a similar feeling for Sullivan. Their goalkeeping track record impressed her, as well. “Their coaching staff is great and what really meant a lot to me is their goalkeeping history. They’ve had a lot of success with goalkeepers in the past,” Sullivan said. “(Mott) was a goalkeeper himself and then Warren (Russ), their goalkeeper coach, he’s really good, too. I think I’m going to learn a lot from them and then grow as a player.” One of the exciting things about Sullivan is how she’s just scratching the surface of her potential. As Norman North head girls’ soccer coach Trevor Laffoon points out, Sullivan has only been a goalkeeper for the past four years.

Callie Sullivan

“In her development, it’s still kind of fairly new to her,” he said. “I wouldn’t say she’s where she’s going to be but, obviously, she’s grown a ton and gotten a lot better. Whether it be talking to me, talking to players, or communicating on the field, I see confidence when I look out there. “I know that she holds herself to a pretty high standard. She’s someone that’s a leader by example.” At CCS, Canty has been the clear best player on the field. That’s meant playing up for the Royals and plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. At OU, Canty will likely slide back to her more natural position in the midfield. “I want to bring energy and I’m very tenacious on the ball and off the ball,” she said. “I want to create goals, just the creativity on the ball is something I love.” One thing’s for certain - OU is getting a bona fide worker in Canty. “She’s an extremely gifted athlete, but I would say the biggest thing with her is her overall work ethic and how much time she’s put into it,” said CCS head coach Don Rother. “She’s incredibly competitive and driven.” The duo still has a pair of seasons remaining at the high school level, so they’ll only continue to get better in the meantime. But, when that day comes, Coach Mott and the Sooners will be thrilled to have kept two of the top local talents at home.– BSM BOYD STREET MAGAZINE | 45


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NPS Launches Innovative Program for High School Students to Earn Associate Degree 48 | January 2024


“Education is the great equalizer, and this is the right moment. We knew we needed to take advantage.” Justin Milner, NPS associate superintendent.


orman Public Schools (NPS) recently announced plans to introduce a cost-effective program enabling high school students to pursue an associate degree, starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. This initiative, unveiled at the annual Norman Chamber of Commerce State of the Schools Luncheon, aims to provide students with an affordable option for post-secondary coursework. “In Norman Public Schools, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to best serve our students and prepare them for life after graduation,” said Superintendent Dr. Nick Migliorino. “I am so incredibly excited about this program and cannot wait to see our first group of students walk across the stage in May 2026 to receive both their high school diploma and associate degree.” The goal of the initiative is to offer students “a jump start on their higher education journey,” said Dr. Kristi Gray, the district’s director of advanced programs and college and career readiness. “In education, there have been a lot of things shifting, opportunities have changed in our virtual world,” she explained. “Standardized pathways don’t leave a lot of room for students to explore. We want to provide as many options as possible for our students to help them determine the path that’s best for them.” This new program aims to blend those trends, resulting in a new educational opportunity for high school students in Norman. “This is something we have been looking at for quite some time and all the ingredients came together,” said Justin Milner, associate superintendent and chief operating officer. “Our goal has always been to identify the best pathways to reduce barriers to success.” Dr. Gray pointed to two factors that have contributed to the timing of this initiative - the virtual learning environment has become more prevalent, and the rising costs of traditional college education underscores the need for an affordable alternative. NPS aims to address these challenges by offering an alternative, enabling students to navigate their coursework in a supportive high school environment.

Students will engage in a mix of self-paced and live online courses facilitated through Tulsa Community College. These courses will be overseen by professors and an educational coach at the students’ respective high schools, providing a blend of virtual and in-person support. Students will be able to build soft skills as they navigate their course work, gradually stepping into more responsibilities and freedoms that mirror the college experience, shared Gray. “Because Tulsa Community College is one of the largest providers of concurrent enrollment in the state, we will be able to provide specific attention to our students enrolled in the program,” she said. Current sophomores and juniors can participate in the program, which begins as early as the summer session. To be eligible, students need to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students will work towards earning a liberal arts associate degree but will also be able to select STEM-focused electives. Dr. Gray stressed that student dedication is paramount. “Students will have to be dedicated, they will have to work hard,” she said. As a first-generation college graduate, Milner identified a key benefit for students. “Our students will be able to take on challenging college coursework while in the nurturing environment of their high school,” he explained. “We all needed supports our freshman and sophomore year in college and hopefully we are able to help our students get a better handle on what they want to do after high school.” The total cost of the program will be approximately $5,500. NPS is working on partnerships to provide scholarship opportunities to students and Milner invites the community to help. “If you are interested in helping build the fund, please reach out to Dr. Gray or myself,” Milner encouraged. – BSM




STRIVING TO BE THE BEST Norman Regional is Home to Six Centers of Excellence


ou’ve likely read the announcements or come across a billboard or plaque declaring various departments within the Norman Regional Health System as a Center of Excellence, but what does that mean? We sat down with Sara Barba, Norman Regional’s manager of Centers of Excellence and Accreditation, to decode what a Center of Excellence really is and what it means for patient care. Barba shared that the definition of a Center of Excellence can vary from hospital to hospital, but at NRH, these prestigious certifications are awarded by esteemed national organizations seeking to recognize the highest standards of care. “Currently Norman Regional has six Centers of Excellence – in bariatric, cardiovascular, stroke, in-patient rehabilitation, orthopedics and perinatal care,” she said. “These departments are broad service lines that cover a very large population of our patients.” To be named a Center of Excellence, hundreds of requirements and evidence-based processes must be in place, and once the distinction is awarded, “you have to continue to excel,” explained Barba. “We are constantly looking at our performance and where we can improve. We are never satisfied,” she said. “Healthcare is one of the fastest changing industries, and we are dedicated to keeping up with the newest and best practices because that is what is best for our patients. 50 | January 2024

“It is always about the patients and these accreditations have helped drive us forward.” Factors such as patient data and direct patient care as well as staff education and community outreach all come into play. “For example, for diseases like heart disease and stroke, prevention is very important so we educate the community about prevention, how to recognize the symptoms, and what to do in an emergency so we can have better patient outcomes,” Barba said. Additional resources include post- and pre-operative care education as well as support groups for patients and caregivers, among others. Ultimately, a Center of Excellence accolade means “every patient that comes into the health system can know they are getting the very best care,” offered Barba. Barba’s department is now sharing what they’ve learned navigating the six certifications and numerous other accreditations with other hospitals nationally. Her team is in the process of composing an article for an industry publication. “It’s not easy to do,” she said. “We are now pulling together what we’ve learned and sharing it with other hospitals.” To learn more, visit – BSM



President and CEO of NEDC Provides Updates on the County


appy New Year! The stars are aligning and promise a transformational and prosperous year throughout Cleveland County. As the state’s third largest, with more than 330,000 residents, we have much to be thankful for, with even more opportunities on the horizon. Our county officials are actively engaged and collaborating to provide Cleveland County citizens with new opportunities, enhanced services and the very best in governance. The newly formed private-sector-led Sooner Centurion Economic Development Council will host the first annual State of the County breakfast, where we’ll hear from County Chairman Rod Cleveland and other elected officials directly. The Sooner Centurions will also host and bring together our cities through a new Mayors Roundtable event that is long overdue. Uniting our cities will bring regional strength to the County and provide clear insights into how county government can best address our residents’ unique needs. These events will also assist the Cleveland County Industrial Development Authority as they seek to develop our first countywide economic development strategic plan. If you want to participate in those discussions, please email me, Lawrence McKinney, at Our capital city, where intellectual pursuits flourish, is led by Mayor Larry Heikkila, who understands and remains focused on collaboration and

54 | January 2024

strengthening partnerships as the primary tool for advancing Norman’s mutual community interests. Relationships with the business community, the University of Oklahoma, Norman Regional Health System, Cleveland County and other economic engines are paramount to overcoming the typical dysfunction found in university towns. He understands that businesses are not just beneficiaries of free enterprise but the lead contributors to the region’s prosperity and that these partnerships allow Norman to tap into a wealth of knowledge, experience and private sector financial support. In fact, the proposed Rock Creek Entertainment District, spearheaded by a coalition of partners known as Team Norman, will be the catalyst for $1 billion in construction and several billion in economic impact over the next decade or two. In quarter one of 2024, citizens will have multiple opportunities to discern facts from fiction regarding this district and more clearly understand why Norman must lead its own renaissance as a great American city instead of passively preventing growth with its cascading effects of unaffordable housing, higher rates of homelessness and community divisiveness. Team Norman will also invest in feasibility studies and data collection to propose unique developments and sustainable outdoor recreation along the Canadian River, Eastside, Lindsey Street, Lake Thunderbird, Campus Corner, and core Downtown. Go to and click on “studies” if you want to know more.


The City of Moore, the belle of the ball for the last two decades, will continue to shine in the region because of a history of excellent, stable leadership, an excellent school system and more affordable housing. Scarce land will force prices up, however, making higher quality developments the norm as it transforms into a more urban community developing upward instead of outward, including its “downtown.” The most immediate and extensive growth will occur in South Oklahoma City due to its location, abundant resources, direct proximity to billion-dollar developments in Oklahoma City and Norman and easy access to multiple interstates and Will Rogers airport. Significant long-term growth, however, is projected for the Noble, Lexington and Slaughterville areas due to I-35, land prices, an eventual turnpike and access to rail. Water will be the primary limiting factor, but leadership, just as it has in the past, will find solutions to meet the demand. Sustainable growth meeting the needs of a diverse county is certainly achievable, although

complex, and not nearly as simple as anti-development activists or pro-growth advocates would have you believe. The unintended consequences of those two extremes have been learned in thousands of communities around the United States, so reinventing the wheel is unnecessary and a step backward. What we know as well is the power of partnerships, collaboration, cooperation and balance. I’m confident we have collaborative, visionary, intellectual leaders throughout the county and our cities, but it’s up to us, the citizens, to be informed, to discern fact from fiction, political skills from rhetoric, and to be active and intentional participants to elect those with the acumen to keep us safe and prosperous in 2024 and beyond. Cheers to all our cities and Cleveland County in 2024! Lawrence McKinney is president and CEO of the Norman Economic Development Coalition where he leads a team of economic and community development professionals responsible for facilitating the creation of jobs and an improved quality of life for the citizens of Norman and Cleveland County.





f you’re like most people, you likely start each year with a list of resolutions to help you improve various aspects of your life. The list may include resolutions to help you become more physically fit, further your career growth and improve your personal relationships. Another category of resolutions you may make centers on those that affect your finances. If the latter is true, there’s probably a good chance that your list of resolutions for the new year looks the same, year after year … after year. Yes, it’s easy to come up with ways you can improve at year’s end, but seeing those resolutions through and actually making them happen is another story entirely. Spend less, save more, pay down debt — how can you make 2024 the year you actually stick to these and other financial resolutions? Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips that can help you keep your financial resolutions throughout the new year.

SET MEASURABLE GOALS Don’t just resolve to be better with money this year. Set realistic, measurable goals to help you stay on track and to ensure you’re actually making progress. For example, you can resolve to increase your spending by a certain amount by the time you hit the mid-year point, decide to trim your spending in a specific category by a set percentage or promise to pay all your bills on time for the entire year. Bonus tip: To make it easier, keep those goals SMART: •






Spend mindfully

Creating a budget can take some time and lots of number crunching, but it’s not the real challenge of financial wellness. The hard part comes when you’ve got to actually stick to that budget and make it part of your life. And one reason many people don’t end up keeping their budget is because they spend money without consciously thinking. Resolve to be more mindful about your spending this year, which means actually thinking about what you’re 56 | January 2024

doing when you swipe that card or hand over that cash to the cashier. You can accomplish this by taking a moment to think about what you’re purchasing and how much you’re paying for it. You can also set yourself up for better success by staying off your phone while you complete your in-store transactions. Bonus tip: Calculate how much you actually earn in an hour so you can see how much of your work time you’re “spending” when you make a large purchase. Is it really worth the price?

PARTNER UP WITH A FRIEND According to, dieters who share their food diaries with a buddy lose twice as much weight. It’s basic psychology: When we know we have to answer to someone else, we’re more likely to stick to our resolutions — and this works for financial resolutions as well. Choose a friend who is in a similar financial bracket as you are and has a comparable relationship with money. Also, it helps if they have similar resolve to set and stick to those financial resolutions together. Set up a weekly time to review progress (or regression) you each have made, and make sure you both come prepared with details and proof to show how you’ve handled your money. Bonus tip: To make it even easier, you can use a money management app, like Mint, to help you track your spending, find your weak areas, and stay accountable for your friend.

WRITE IT DOWN In an era where some people can go without touching a pen and paper for days, writing down New Year’s resolutions can seem obsolete, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. The act of putting your financial resolutions into writing will help to imprint them on your memory. Plus, you’ll have a list of your resolutions to reference throughout the year to help keep you on track. Bonus tip: Writing doesn’t need to be physical in order to count. You can use a resolution-tracking app, like Strides, where you can record, track and reference your New Year’s resolutions at any time with just a few quick clicks. Sticking to your financial resolutions isn’t easy. Follow the tips outlined here to make 2024 the year you truly get your finances into shape.

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Chardonnay, Chablis, Champagne


he chardonnay grape is one of the most versatile grapes grown. Although it’s not the most commonly planted grape, it comes in among the top five around the world. It’s a neutral green grape that gets most of its characteristics from the soil and climate where it’s grown, and the methods winemakers use. The exclusive use of stainless steel for fermentation and aging produces a very fruit forward flavor while the introduction of oak mellows the wine. Chablis is a chardonnay wine originating in the Chablis region of France. In countries that are not within the European Union, the name is used to denote a dry white wine. Chablis is slightly more acidic than white burgundy, both of which have fruit notes. Chardonnay is also the backbone of French white burgundy, which must originate from the Burgundy region of France.

58 | January 2024

Chardonnay wine produced in the United States comes in a broad range of styles as well. After first winning the Judgment in Paris in 1976, with a Chardonnay styled very much like white burgundy, U.S. winemakers struck off in new directions. Delayed harvests created wines with higher alcohol content, and the addition of oak during fermentation or in aging added toast flavors to fuller bodied wine. Malolactic fermentation creates a buttery flavor that wine drinkers seem to either love or hate. Winemakers in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have all created chardonnay with their own unique characteristics resulting from climate and methods. So, on a cold night, splurge for one or two bottles of chardonnay that you have not tried before and enjoy the journey. Happy New Year, Kathy

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What’s Eating Norman

Roosters 62 | January January 2024 2024


he college football season proved to be a big draw for Rooster’s Sports Bar & Grill on West Main Street. General Manager Robby Dryden hopes college basketball has the same effect on customers who follow the University of Oklahoma. “On game days, we seem to be a real popular spot,” Dryden said. “They sit for long time and really seem to enjoy being here. We’re definitely hoping basketball replaces football interest-wise.” Rooster’s, a locally owned sports bar with locations in Tulsa, Owasso and Afton (Grand Lake), opened Sept. 14 in the old Coach’s Brewhouse location at 110 W. Main St. Owner Auston Mann always wanted to be in the bar business but knew he needed to take a different approach when he opened the first Rooster’s in 2018.

The lineup of appetizers is strong, with the most popular selections being fried wontons, southwest egg rolls or Rooster nachos piled on a big sheet pan with corn salsa and pico de gallo with either grilled chicken or steak. With 7,000 square feet of space, seating for 250 and 19 flatscreen TV’s, Rooster’s quickly established itself as the place to go for OU fans. “We are definitely surrounded by OU sports memorabilia,” Dryden said. “We have lot of OU and pro jerseys and more on the way.” NFL jerseys worn by former OU stars Baker Mayfield, Lane Johnson and Creed Humphrey are among 12 on display. A 15-foot neon OU logo hangs above the u-shaped bar, where drink specials are offered beginning at 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. They include $1

“At the time I thought ‘there’s a lot of bars out there but not really a lot of sports bars,’” he said. “I wanted to be something different. I wanted to attract the sports crowd.” With a push from friend Cale Gundy, a former OU quarterback and assistant coach, Mann decided to open up in Norman. “Pretty much, Cale is our ambassador,” he said. “He’s there to embrace the brand and bring people in.” Whether it’s the Rooster burger topped with a jalapeno peach cream cheese spread, an order of Cajun pasta with shrimp, or some onion rings, the fare is what Dryden likes to call “elevated.” “What makes us unique is our food is not typical bar food. Not everything is thrown in a fryer or frozen,” he said. “We hand-batter our chicken strips and our burger patties are not frozen, they’re made fresh every day.”

canned beer (Colorado-brewed Outlaw) and $3 well liquors. Rooster’s features a large selection of high-end bourbons that Dryden calls “the best bourbon selection I’ve ever seen.” “We definitely see a lot of people returning, even multiple times,” he said. “When people are coming back, they’re telling me they really enjoy the vibe. “So, it’s high energy but people can come and be comfortable. Later in the day, we turn the music up and turn the lights down and we make it a party.” Rooster’s Sports Bar & Grill is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Wednesday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. – BSM

Photos by: Mark Doescher



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rowing up in Urbandale, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines, Norman Police Detective Brett Willer always cherished being part of a sports team. After graduating from high school in 2001, Willer contemplated his career path and decided to attend college at Central Missouri State University. His fondness for visiting his aunt and uncle in McAlester, Oklahoma, where his father served as the district attorney for many years, played a role in his decision. In December 2004, Willer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Eager to begin his professional journey, he discovered that the Norman Police Department was hiring, leading him to commence his training at the police academy in June 2005. “I’ve been with the department for just under 18 and half years,” Willer said. “I spent six years on patrol and ultimately interviewed to be a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division. Fortunately, I was selected and made a lateral transfer and that’s where I’m at now.” Returning to the camaraderie of a team, Willer expressed gratitude for having been part of various roles at the police department. “I’ve been on the bike team, the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team and the offender registration enforcement team,” he said. “I’ve also worked as a specifically trained officer in field training, as a physical training instructor, in the special investigations section and as a part of the major crimes team.” Having been a member of the SWAT team for almost 13 years, Willer spoke fondly of his time on the team, drawing parallels to his experiences in middle and high school playing sports. “I liked being part of the SWAT team because of the comradery and all of us working together to come to a peaceful resolution,” he shared.

66 | January 2024

Investigating missing person or runaway cases is particularly meaningful to Willer. Last year, he handled over 200 cases, mostly involving runaway and missing person investigations. “It’s rewarding to be part of the process of reuniting people with their loved ones,” he said. Willer finds motivation in seeking resolutions to the reasons behind the absence of a loved one, providing a sense of closure and well-being for everyone involved. “That’s the reason I love my job and the position I’m in now,” he emphasized. Willer said he also enjoys being out in the community speaking to groups and individuals. “It’s about educating them,” he said. “While I’m not primarily assigned to work identity theft, I have worked those cases and provide pointers to people about what to look for, so they don’t become victims. I also go to schools to talk about stranger danger.” Married in December 2009, Willer and his wife are proud parents of one child. “I love spending time with my family,” he said. “We frequently visit the zoo and enjoy outdoor activities.” This is a continuation of our series on public servants in Norman.

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