Team Gives ‘Big Will’ A Homecoming Treat

By Arielle Dollinger

 Pictured: R.J. Schupler, 12, Will Schupler, 10, and Devin Burdo, 16.

Pictured: R.J. Schupler, 12, Will Schupler, 10, and Devin Burdo, 16.

Sixteen-year-old Cold Spring Harbor High School junior Devin Burdo decided that he would use his football team’s homecoming game as an opportunity to honor Will Schupler, a 10-year-old whose brain works differently from that of other children his age.

Burdo, whose brother has played lacrosse with Schulper’s brother, had seen father Robert Schupler’s fundraising letter before – Robert Schupler sends the letter out every so often in an effort to raise funds for Catskills special-needs sleepy-away camp Camp Loyaltown. This year, the student decided that it was time to help.

“Now that I’m older, it kind of just really touched me,” Burdo said. “I just thought, he [Will] really can’t experience what a normal kid gets to experience.”

Burdo had seen Will at their brothers’ games.

Will was born with Cortical Dysplasia, a condition that has left him unable to speak and with the IQ of an 18-month-old. He has daily seizures, his father said; he had four brain surgeries and tried medications that have not helped.

“After learning more about it as I got older, I felt like something should’ve been done, because I thought more people can know about the situation,” Burdo said.

One night, he went to the Schuplers’ house to deliver an envelope of crumpled $1s, $5s, $10s and $20s for the charity, mother Liz Schupler said, and told the family that he and the Cold Spring Harbor varsity football team would like to honor Will at the homecoming game.

Burdo did not tell the Schuplers what to expect; he only asked that they attend the game and get to the 50-yard-line.

During the Oct. 18 game, the team formed a U-shaped wall around Will and presented him with a Cold Spring Harbor football jersey that read “Big Will.” Each team member and coach shook Will’s hand. The players wore “FOW” – “Friends of Will” – decals on their helmets.

“It was like them stepping out of themselves and honoring a kid that is so atypical and so not your normal child, and all feeling that he deserved his time,” Liz Schupler said. “It was really amazing.”

 The Cold Spring Harbor football team and cheerleaders surrounded Will Schupler at the school’s homecoming game.

The Cold Spring Harbor football team and cheerleaders surrounded Will Schupler at the school’s homecoming game.

Perhaps “the most amazing part of it,” she said, was that the students saw more than just Will’s disability.

“I’m sure a lot of these kids… maybe they’ve never even had contact with a special needs individual like Will,” she said. “They treated him like a ‘typical’ kid, which was amazing.”

Will likely was unaware of what was going on around him, Liz Schupler noted, but that did not matter.

“My son may not know any better,” she said, “but as a family, we all understood, and we knew what it meant.”

Burdo knew what it meant, but was not quite sure how he would react when the moment came until it did, he said.

“Seeing the gratitude they had on their face and just how they felt, just felt amazing,” Burdo said. “I didn’t know I was able to touch a family that much.”

And he did touch the family, Liz Burdo said.

“Devin Burdo is such an amazing kid,” she said. “He is so emotionally mature for his age… He’s a junior in high school and here’s this kid spearheading this campaign.”

Robert Schupler shared the story in an Oct. 21 letter to Long Islander News.

“No, we are not large boasters of the program, our son is not a member of the team, nor, are we very influential in the community,” the letter reads. “We were invited to watch the game from the field because of the character and compassion of the team, the coaches, the cheerleaders, the band and the athletic administrators.”

The team members who helped his family “are a shining beacon of everything that is right in the world today,” the father wrote.