When he was a student at Charlotte’s Garinger High School, William Oates, 39, had two passions. He loved football and was an offensive lineman for his high school team. He also loved Latin, originally studying it at his father’s insistence but then discovering he had a real aptitude for it.
“I liked history and mythology and all the ancillary parts of being a classicist,” Oates says.
At Virginia’s Emory and Henry College, where Oates was recruited for football, he planned to major in either sociology or anthropology.
But a course in Biblical Greek in his sophomore year changed his mind, and he graduated in 1995 with a degree in Classical Studies.
He continued his studies at University of North Carolina in Greensboro, pursuing a Master of Arts in Education of Latin. But he did not complete his degree.
“I got married in 1999,” Oates says, “and I figured it was time to stop being a student and get a real job.”
While attending a teaching fair in Asheville, where his family had relocated, he learned that there were multiple positions for Latin teachers in Charlotte.
Within days, Oates was fielding several offers from principals and ended up accepting a position at Providence High School, where he served as one of two Latin teachers from 1999 to 2004. He moved to East Mecklenburg High School in 2004 and has been its sole Latin teacher ever since, teaching 75 students who run the gamut from Latin I to Latin VI.
Oates is also putting his football expertise to use, serving as one of the coaches of the East Meck Football team.
Even though he was recruited to play football in college, he never grew as expected and spent most of his time on the sidelines.
“But I paid attention and listened,” Oates says, “and I learned what everybody was supposed to do.” He is now applying that knowledge to coaching East Meck’s offensive linesmen, allowing him “to put the theory I learned into practice.”
Oates says that people sometimes stereotype both his Latin students and his football players, assuming there is more of a disparity than actually exists.
“Football players have above level intelligence,” Oates says, “because there is so much they have to analyze and process in such a short amount of time.”
He hopes to instill his passion for Latin – both the language and the history behind it – to his students.
“Latin language and culture,” Oates says, “is the true genesis of Western society.” He refers to romance languages like Spanish, French and Italian as “the modern forms of Latin,” and notes that, as such, “Latin is not really dead.”
Oates also thinks the study of Latin provides a unique opportunity to study our own language. He laments the fact that grammar is no longer taught in school, but in Latin class, “students have to break down sentences and learn what a predicate adjective is.” It also helps students expand their vocabularies because “they learn how to break down unfamiliar words and find their stems.”
In both football and Latin, Oates values the process.
“There are no shortcuts,” he says. “You have to follow the step-by-step path to get there.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Do you have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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