Mason one of two Teachers of the Year for MHS
Mike Mason, one of Mustang High School's two Teachers of the Year, is a larger than life, rough around the edges anatomy teacher who hands out vertebrae on a string as hall passes. His mottos for life come from the New Testament and The Grateful Dead. For decades he was also a girl's soccer coach and cross country coach. He's known by his athletes for the lessons of loyalty, love and hard work, and his batches of brownies for winning teams are the stuff of legends.
Had a person asked those who knew him growing up, teaching would probably not be the career they would have predicted for Mike Mason.
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He earned a bachelor's of science in biology from the College of William and Mary. He came to Oklahoma looking for a career when the oil market was strong. From petroleum engineers to the guys on the rig to the immigrants who barely spoke English, Mason found he could communicate complex information to any of them.
After the oil field went bust, Mason decided to enroll at UCO and become a teacher. UCO wasn't so sure.
"My interests were partially academic in college," Mason said of his time at William and Mary. "Lets just say my academic endeavors had not been that concentrated."
He convinced the admissions counselors to give him a try. He went to UCO three days a week and worked as a substitute teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays, trying out everything from elementary to high school. While he never got an A for his first degree, he never got a B in pursuit of his teaching degree.
He had attended high school in Putnam City and a few administrators recognized him when he was a substitute. They needed a biology teacher and an assistant soccer coach. Mason had been playing rugby and coaching soccer when he was in the oil field. He took the job.
"I spent 11 years there," he said. "I was finally where I was supposed to be. God gets you there eventually, but I had to go through the oilfield to realize it."
He took a job as a science teacher in Mustang in 1996, coaching girls' cross country in the fall and girls' soccer in the spring. Coaching was one of his favorite parts of the job.
"Girls need someone they can count on," Mason said. "They need males in their lives to encourage them to have self respect and to encourage them to be women of high character, just like the guys do."
Somewhere along the line, Mason started making fudge for his teams as a reward. Fudge was later replaced with brownies.
"I have made more pans of brownies since I moved here. Why? Because girls like chocolate," he said. "The brownies came about with soccer. I don't even remember what year it was. I said, 'You start winning and I'll start making brownies.' We made the semi finals three out of the last five years and that cost a lot of brownies."
He cannot estimate the amount of money he has spent on brownies over the years and he refuses to make a guess because he's afraid the kids will feel bad. Other teams discovered the joy of Mason's brownies and he's making pans for some of them too.
"And if the JV and varsity are winning, that's TWO pans," he said.
And when this year's graduates move on with their lives, Mike Mason will remember them. When asked to talk about himself, the conversation eventually and predictably turns to his former students and athletes and where they are now. He lists them by name with an unmistakable note of pride in their accomplishments. He estimates he's taught more than 3,000 students in 31 years and that's not counting his beloved teams.
There's the student who is a car dealer and another who is a contractor in Iraq. When he travels through Arkansas, he and his wife, Julie, always stop to visit a former soccer player who is in charge of all the tour guides for the state. There's another former student in Reno they've stopped to see. There are former students who are cardiologists, others who are lawyers, phlebotomists, x-ray techs and stay at home mothers, some now in their mid 40's. Julie doesn't let him shop with her in the winter because they can't get out of the stores. Mason just thinks it's fun. One of his favorite things in life is to see his kids.
"One of the good things about coaching girls is you get invited to weddings," he said. "I love to go see my girls."
He and Julie were given a unique, ceramic pie plate when they got married. They took it to a speciality shop in the Paseo where the owner created a mold. Every bride gets a one-of-a-kind ceramic pie plate and a recipe.
Mason is starting to take a step back now. He thinks of it as weaning himself away a little at a time after three decades. He gave up cross country first. This year he gave up coaching soccer, although the fact that he still sees those girls in class is a consolation. It's time to work on his own health and slow down a bit. His retired friend and colleague, Jimmie Hale, told him the kids would be his legacy. They are not only that, but also his joy. Perhaps he could have made a better living in another field, but he could not have made a better life.
"I have been blessed beyond measure by both God and this community," he said. I also know God has allowed me to be a part of a lot of people's lives. I get back a whole lot more from the kids than I'll ever give.