By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The life of Will Waldrop began four weeks earlier than anyone expected.
Perhaps it’s because he couldn’t wait any longer to get updates on the football program at Charlotte High School.
Now 21 years later, Waldrop, the son of Tarpons coach Binky Waldrop, has been eagerly waiting all week for the Class 6A Regional Championship game between Fort Myers and his beloved Tarpons today at 7:30 p.m.
“Will has taught me a lot about life,” his father said earlier this week during a break in preparations for the Green Wave, a team Charlotte defeated early in the regular season. “A lot of days, he doesn’t feel well and doesn’t want to get up, but you never hear about it. He’s a trooper. He’s been through a lot, and he’s still the happiest kid in the world.”
Even though he was born in August, with plenty of time left in the football season, Will never made it to a game that first year. Instead, he spent his first six months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Will was born about a month premature, which led to a host of complications at birth. Over the first decade of his life, he had somewhere around 25 surgeries, including multiple procedures on his heart, eyes, kidneys and ears.
“It was really rough,” his father recalled. “He was up there (at the hospital in St. Petersburg). I was in football season, spending a lot of nights driving up there after practice. It was rough. He’s been through a lot.
“They told us a long time ago that he wouldn’t be around this long, and he’s defied all of that.”
That would just be the start of life-long medical conditions for Will. Although Will has never been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, he does have many of the characteristics.
“When Will was born, the team didn’t know how serious the situation was,” said Mary Kathyrn Waldrop, Will’s mother and Binky’s wife. “When they found out, that Friday night all of the kids on the team that year took athletic tape and put ‘WW’ on their helmets for Will.”
And thus began a life-long love affair between Will Waldrop and all the players and coaches who have been associated with the Charlotte football program.
“Ever since then, every team for the last 21 years have been Will’s big brother,” his mother said.
Over the last 21 years, except for Binky and a handful of coaches, nobody other than Will has been such a consistent in the
Tarpons program. Will grew up around the team, and every year he grows a stronger and stronger bond with the players.
“I like helping the boys out. They’re a great group of guys to work with,” Will said.
Binky recalls Ryan Voss in 2001 as the first player to form a real connection with a then- 6-year-old Will. On this year’s team, that special connection is with wideout Jacob White.
“Will and I have just been cool since my freshman year,” White said. “He keeps everybody in a positive attitude. He brings a positive vibe and always keeps us happy.”
Will’s mother loves the friendship between White and her son, and says Will is always talking about the player, and really enjoys their time together in physical education class.
Will’s love with everything Charlotte High School isn’t one-sided, either. When he was a senior in 2014, the students named him homecoming king.
“He was so excited that he had just been chosen for court,” his mother said. “That night before homecoming he was so excited to get to walk and go to the dance. Binky knew (because they wanted to make sure he was there), but I didn’t know.
“Binky and the team came out, and that was very special. It just goes to show the caliber of young adults at Charlotte High School.”
Since graduating, Will spends half his day learning at a vocational-technical program, and then heads back to Charlotte to help out in the office of Athletic Director Brian Nolan. He’ll walk over to football practice after school and spend his afternoon interacting with the team.
You’ll find him in the stands tonight in Fort Myers cheering on the players who love him just as much as he loves them.