Social and Emotional Learning in Action! Part IV: Archer Hadley

Our series continues this week with another football story. More accurately, this story starts with middle school football and expands to include the winning Austin High Maroons football team, the whole of Austin High becoming more accessible for people of all abilities, and a winning short documentary film that saw its subjects and creators honored recently by President Barack Obama in Washington, DC.  Intrigued? Prepare to be inspired!

Archer Hadley, an active member of the Austin High Maroons football team and graduating senior, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.  His career in athletics began in 7th grade at O.Henry Middle School, where he recently returned as the keynote speaker honoring student athletes.  Pease Elementary principal Matthew Nelson, former assistant principal and football coach at O.Henry, introduced Archer with this story:

Six and a half years ago, two days before Archer was to start his 7th grade year here at O.Henry, his mother came to campus to meet the staff and inquire about the possibility of her son participating in sports at O.Henry.  I was the 7th grade football coach at the time and spoke with her about the possibilities.  She spoke of how he loved football and how he wanted to participate in some way.  Participation not fully defined yet.  I told her to have him at the football field at 6:45 am the 2nd day of school and we would get to work.  And man, did we get to work.  Archer showed up every morning bright and early with a smile and enthusiasm and went about passing out pennies, counting pushups, leading the team in warm-ups, calling plays in the huddle, picking up kicking tees, counting players on special teams, all the while motivating and encouraging and ensuring each and every student out there, coaches included, gave their very best.  Because if not, as Archer would yell, what’s the point of even coming to practice.

The game became not “what can Archer do?” but rather “what can’t Archer do!”  And the possibilities were endless.  We, myself and the coaches, pushed Archer just as hard, if not harder, than the other students, but not nearly as hard as Archer pushed himself.  Archer and I would time how long it would take him to pick up the kicking tee after kick off, then try to beat it every time.  We then took the same mentality of practicing perfectly and trying to improve each time into school settings.  We spent hours upon hours perfecting the art of opening the doors in the library and would video tape our results.  Not only to send to his mother and father, but to also look at as “game film” to see what we could improve upon.

Which leads us to today: Archer Hadley can open any door in the world, literally and metaphorically, that he wants because of his work ethic, his attention to detail, and most of all, his “stick-to-itiveness.”   This young man, who began his athletics career at O.Henry, who has continued to be involved in athletics for 6 years after, and has probably inspired more students, coaches, parents and fans over the years than anybody I can think of, has made it his goal not to just open doors for himself, but to open doors for others.  Archer will never be daunted by society’s inability to accept the fact that he can do anything.  He will not be deterred by people who say “he can’t.”  Nobody who has ever spent more than 30 seconds with him will ever say “he can’t.”  He can.  He will.  Austin High now has wheelchair accessible doors for the first time in 130 years due to this young man’s dedication and heart.  The doors aren’t for him, his time there is ending–but rather for future generations of Archer Hadleys so they can have access to everything and anything they put their sights on.  Doing what Archer did wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight.  The lessons he learned about positive thinking, dedication, perseverance, and never giving anything less than 100% effort were helped developed here, many years ago, in this same school, in this same gym where you sit now.

I can’t think of any better person to speak to you wonderful student athletes today than Mr. Archer Hadley.  At this time, please put your hands together for the student to my teacher, the athlete to my coach, the Padwan to my Jedi, the Robin to My Batman, and, and I feel very fortunate to say this, my Friend…Archer Hadley.


 Archer has used the same grit and determination that he has applied to his successful football coaching career to create the “Mr. Maroo Challenge” campaign, which raised $87,000 in two months to purchase and install five automatic push-button doors on the Austin High campus. The door installation occurred over the December ’14 holiday break.  At a January celebration to fete this achievement and installation, Texas governor Greg Abbott, another person who uses a wheelchair, greeted Archer and spoke about how his story inspires Abbott personally and reaches out from Austin High into the greater Austin community and beyond.  Indeed, several other Austin high schools have taken on the Mr. Maroo Challenge to raise funds toward push-button accessible doors on their own campuses.

And to top it all off, Archer and a few other Austin High students created a short documentary film:

This film, telling the story of Archer and the Mr. Maroo campaign, was one of fifteen selected from over 1500 entries in the second annual White House Student Film Festival.  So, in keeping with our blog series on the power of extracurricular activities to build social and emotional skills in student and adult participants: Archer Hadley honed his grit and determination in the football programs at O.Henry Middle School and Austin High, kicked off a campaign to make his high school more accessible to all, made a winning short documentary film about the process with friends and allies, and inspired everybody from his middle school football coach to the President of the United States.

How’s that for 21st Century Social and Emotional Skills? #AISDproud! #SELsmart!

Thanks to Sarah Stone, SEL Specialist, for contributing to this post.

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