OWASSO — Will Lambley is 17 years old and he can no longer drive. He can no longer play baseball, his first sports love. He dreams of doing both, the clean version of “Mo Bamba” thumping from his Jeep, his Rejoice Christian School ballclub battling in the playoffs.
But dreams must do.
“It’s called Leber hereditary optic neuropathy. I’m one in 50,000 people,” Will says. “I can see people’s faces, like when they’re up close like you are.”
I’m sitting two feet from Will in the Rejoice Christian bleachers.
“But I can’t see anything out there,” he says in regard to the football field maybe 100 feet in front of us. “It’s blurry out there.”
We could proceed with how Will first noticed fuzzy sight last November. How the Lambleys embarked on a statewide doctor’s office odyssey before specialists at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, diagnosed Will with LHON, a disease where optic nerve cells die and your central vision is impaired to the point you are legally blind, last May.
We could get into how managing something like this takes patience and understanding that none of us can imagine let alone possess, especially since the specialists said there was an 80 percent chance Will’s vision would never improve.
“I still get mad at times, say some things I shouldn’t. I think ‘What if?’ ” Will says. “But I also know God gave me this for a reason.”
So it’s here the story turns. No despair, just grace.
Will is in the bleachers because he just finished practice with the Rejoice football team. He is playing nose guard this season.
He just finished his first day of school with his best friends in the world. He was just in the locker room with several of them, waiting out storm clouds by watching film with the help of electronic glasses — they look like something you’d strap on for virtual reality — then showing his buddies his new eyewear.
In a few days he’ll ride to Arkansas with his parents and his close friend and Rejoice teammate Hunter Jennings. Will loves the Razorbacks. He wouldn’t miss the football team’s Fan Day. Now that coach Chad Morris and some of the players have his cell number? Are you kidding?
“Jeremiah 29:11,” Will says. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
“That just tells me no matter what the situation is, I mean, God’s got me.”
Will’s bond with his faith and with his friends has strengthened the past nine months.
“The night we came back from the doctor in Oklahoma City, Will called Hunter first and said, ‘There might be something wrong with my optic nerve,’ ” says Melissa Lambley, Will’s mom.
“We’ll talk about things that we struggle with together and be there for each other,” Hunter says. “And we’ll talk regular stuff, about football, debate the SEC. It’s really unique.
“I could see him grow in different places that others couldn’t, especially with all of this stuff going on. I could see him get a lot tougher, how much desire he has to push through things and really fight.”
Will mentions Hunter hand-writing Tim Tebow a letter telling Tebow how inspiring this has been and asking for an autograph. (Tebow sent Will a signed baseball.) He mentions Rejoice lineman Gunner Evans and center Stockton Ryan and their support, and how he can go “on and on about the team and guys in school.”
The guys might help him read a test question in class or a text message on his phone. Otherwise, it’s high school as usual, just as Will prefers.
They’ll grab some Whataburger together, joke around. They’ll pop each other’s shoulder pads at practice.
“The people in my life, it’s hard not to be happy,” Will says.
It’s not just his teammates.
“Last December after our season I went in Coach’s office and said, ‘No matter what, I just want you to know I’m playing football,’ ” Will says. “ ‘I don’t care if I have to long-snap or whatever. I just want to be a part of it.’ ”
“We wanted to be an outlet for him. He was dealing with so much,” Rejoice football coach Brent Marley says. “We talked as a staff and thought, ‘Well, we could move him to nose on the defensive line and put him right over the football.’ He was playing outside linebacker and secondary, away from the ball. We knew he could see figures, blurs, and maybe he could make out the ball when it moves.”
The blurs don’t keep Will from shooting gaps and wreaking havoc in his new position. They don’t keep him from contributing.
“If anything, Will has picked it up another notch. It’s a great example of so what/now what and rising to the occasion,” Marley says. “I shared with the team something Helen Keller once said. ‘The most ridiculous person is the one who has sight but has no vision.’
“There’s a lot of people running around with sight, everything is fine, and yet they have no vision. Here, you have a young man who has lost a major part of his sight. But you can see his conviction. He has vision.”
Marley isn’t the only coach to notice.
“Me and a friend were outside playing basketball one day over the summer,” Will says. “My dad came out and said, ‘Will, you got a call from Chad Morris.’ No way. I thought it was one of my friends.’ ”
Nope. It was the head coach at the University of Arkansas.
“Coach Morris reached out, and it was an emotional conversation,” says Rand Lambley, Will’s dad. “He kept telling Will people care about him.”
“He encouraged me. A tremendous guy,” Will says. “I was in shock. I started bawling.”
Morris invited Will to address the Razorbacks at their practice last month.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” Morris said before introducing his special guest. “Will is a testament right here.”
When it was his turn, Will told the players how much they motivated him. He also said: “God has prepared me for this situation with the people he put around me.”
Morris gathered the Razorbacks around Will and had Will break the team huddle. Will smiled as Morris said: “Tell Will why we always put our left hand up. It’s closest to our heart. We always put our palm up. Why? To lift each other. Put your palm up, Will.”
Back at Rejoice Christian, the Eagles host Crossings Christian in Friday night’s football season opener. Will is a captain, so he’ll help gather his friends, classmates and teammates for a pregame huddle.
Their palms will be up, Will’s highest of all.
OKLAHOMA CITY — In response to a legal challenge, supporters of an effort to nullify a bill allowing permitless carry concede they don’t have enough signatures to get it on the ballot.
The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, several lawmakers and others filed the challenge in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The challenge alleges that the description or gist of the proposed state question was misleading and inaccurate concerning where people would be able to carry a weapon without a permit or training.
Last session, lawmakers passed House Bill 2597, called constitutional carry or permitless carry. It is expected to take effect Nov. 1.
It was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Last week, supporters, including Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, turned in signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office seeking to get State Question 803 on the ballot in 2020.
They needed 59,320 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
On Thursday, they filed their response to the legal challenge pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
“While the proponents certainly obtained a substantial number of signatures in an exceedingly short time, nevertheless, even under the estimates most favorable to them, they do not think they obtained the signatures necessary to suspend (House Bill) 2597 from operation and refer the measure to a vote of the people in 2020,” according to the response.
The response said supporters’ most optimistic estimate is that 50,000 signatures were obtained, but their conservative estimate is around 30,000 signatures, according to the brief.
Lowe said the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office will still count the signatures.
“It is far from over,” Lowe said.
He said critics are considering an initiative petition or a lawsuit.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, was the author of House Bill 2597.
Echols said he was not surprised that the effort fell short but was impressed with how many signatures were obtained.
He said it is time to move past the issue. He said he and others would be willing to discuss best practices and data to reduce gun violence.
“Constitutional carry has nothing to do with gun violence,” Echols said.
Don Spencer is president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, which backed House Bill 2597.
Spencer said supporters of nullification exaggerated what the law says.
“We are not surprised they would exaggerate their signature count,” Spencer said. “The Legislature, the governor and the people have spoken on this issue. As we anticipated, the law will go into effect Nov. 1.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — The FBI is investigating a cybertheft of $4.2 million from the state’s pension fund for retired Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers, state agents, park rangers and other law enforcement officers.
The Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System — OLERS — posted an announcement online about the investigation Thursday, 10 days after the money disappeared from the account.
“We are certain the stolen funds will be recovered,” the state agency said. “Most importantly, no pension benefits to members or beneficiaries have been impacted or put at risk. All benefits will continue to be paid in a timely fashion as always.”
The state agency made the announcement only after being contacted by The Oklahoman about the cybercrime.
A Tulsa police officer was fired Wednesday morning, barely a month after graduating from the academy, after the Police Department learned of his past social media posts in support of waterboarding as an interrogation technique and expressing anti-government and anti-Islamic sentiments.
The department received a complaint about Officer Wayne Brown’s posts early Wednesday, Sgt. Shane Tuell said.
Police Chief Chuck Jordan “immediately ordered internal affairs to open an investigation, and within 1 hour and 15 minutes of receiving the complaint, the officer was terminated,” Tuell said in a statement.
Brown was one of 25 cadets who graduated from the Tulsa Police Academy last month. Though listed as Wayne Brown in the graduation program, Brown used the name “Duke Brown” on Facebook.
Marq Lewis, a community activist with We the People Oklahoma, posted screenshots of Brown’s personal page to his own Facebook account Wednesday morning.
Brown’s Facebook page has since been either deleted or made private. Tuell said Jordan determined that the posts violated department policy and necessitated Brown’s firing.
Screenshots show that Brown shared posts in 2013 from the “Oklahoma Volunteer Militia” that supported the Three Percenters movement, a group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as loosely organized gun owners “who vow to resist gun control laws with force if necessary.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s web page says the group’s late co-founder, Michael Vanderboegh, “was a longtime leader and propagandist in the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement specializing in fiery rhetoric urging violent ‘self-defense’ against a tyrannical, Constitution-flouting U.S. government determined to impose the Communist principles of gun control and universal health care.”
In another post, Brown shared a meme of a bald eagle in front of an American flag with the caption: “Waterboarding is when we baptize the terrorists with freedom.”
Brown also shared another meme featuring a clenched fist with the caption, “Pledge to my family, flag and country, when the day comes I will fight to my last breath before I submit to Islam.”
Although Brown has been fired, Tuell said the internal investigation of the incident, including Brown’s recruitment to the agency, remains open.
Tulsa Police Sgt. Jennifer Murphy talks about the Tulsa Police new reading program and school supply handout at the Darlington Apartments.