He's already a champion Football: Ron Green from Severna Park will play in the national title game for Tennessee, but in overcoming a learning disability to earn his degree, he has registered a bigger triumph.

December 30, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The biggest moment in Ron Green's life won't come Monday night at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., when he and his University of Tennessee football teammates play Florida State for the national championship.

It already happened here a couple of weeks ago, when the fifth-year senior from Severna Park received his undergraduate degree in sociology. In football, Green was something of a natural. In the academic world, he wasn't.

Green is learning-disabled.

"College," he said here recently, "was a struggle for me."

It wasn't much different at Severna Park High School, where Green took his college entrance exams six times before achieving the score needed under NCAA guidelines. Andy Borland remembers the day Green got the news.

"When he finally passed, Ron and his guidance counselor came in to tell me," said Borland, who retired last June after 35 years as the school's football coach. "There were tears in everyone's eyes."

Borland choked on his words, the memories of that day five years ago coming back.

"And now he's got a sheet of paper saying that he's a college graduate," said Borland, who has stayed in close touch with his former player.

Doris Green has memories, too. Of how she and her late husband, Donald, raised their great-nephew. The son of Angela Green and Larry Thomas, Ron Green suffered a bout of pneumonia when he was 3 months old. At that point, Angela asked her aunt and uncle to take on the role of Ron's parents.

When the boy was in first grade, Doris Green suspected he wasn't making the same academic progress that her five children -- now ages 34 through 39 -- had made at a similar stage. So she held him back.

"It was rather tough," she said last week from the family's home in Pasadena. "But he had the determination, and we told him that he could do anything he wanted to do and that nothing would stand in his way. He wasn't going to let his disability stop him from achieving what he wanted."

Doris Green was here for her great-nephew's graduation ceremony Dec. 20, as were nine other members of the family, including his mother. He became the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college. Donald Green missed the occasion by exactly six months. He died June 20.

Carmen Tegano, the associate athletic director for student life at Tennessee, who oversees the school's academic support unit, worked with Green when he first arrived on campus and again recently to ensure that everything was in place for graduation.

"From the first day he arrived, he always had his notebooks ready, his pens in place, his calculator working," Tegano said. "To tell you the truth, he was kind of a nerd. Some kids called him 'Mr. Nerd' behind his back, but Ron's an extremely hard worker and he's done well because he managed his time. Academics were always a priority."

Still, Green needed constant tutoring over the past five years from Lois Prislovski, who directs Tennessee's program for students with special needs.

"I got tutoring almost every day," he said.

Green suffers from developmental expressive writing disorder, Prislovski said. It affects his ability to put down on paper what he hears as well as what he thinks.

Getting help

In Green's case, it required having note-takers with him at every class, and accommodations were made so that Green could write papers with the help of voice-activated computers and take oral exams.

"What got him through was hard work," Prislovski said. "When he was about to graduate, he was in study hall every night from 7 until midnight. He is very diligent, always asking, 'Can I do something else?' Every nook and cranny of his time was spent working."

It was different in football. That came easy to Green, a gifted all-around athlete who started on Severna Park's varsity basketball team as a freshman and even competed in gymnastics as a 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore. "I got some interesting looks," said Green, who competed in floor exercise and the vault. "They'd say, 'Whoa, who's this big guy?' "

Green had never played organized football until trying out for the sport as a freshman at the urging of one of his friends.

"I thought basketball was my thing," Green said. "I went out and found that I was good at it [football]. I was introduced to Andy Borland and told him that this was my first time playing football. I told him, 'I don't know what to do,' and he said, 'Just do whatever I tell you.' The first day of practice, I was working out with the JV. He said to me, 'What are you doing down there?' "

Said Borland: "He was a man among boys. We struggled where to play him because of his athletic ability. He could run the 40 in 4.5. He had a 31-inch vertical jump. He bench-pressed 300 pounds without any previous training. You look at a kid with that kind of talent and sort of swell up."

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