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AKRON, Ohio — This weekend, an Akron teacher is putting away his lesson plans and packing his running gear. Before Larry O’Neil departed on a weekend trip to New England to run the prestigious Boston Marathon, he received a special surprise from his students.

“We just wanted to show support. He’s really a great guy. He’s also one of my favorite teachers,” said Zon, a junior at Akron Early College High School.

Other students shared similar sentiments.

“He’s one of the nicest teachers. He’s easygoing, kind of like a father figure to some of us too,” said junior Amani Franklin.

Fellow junior Kaylee Kovach added, “He makes history fun.”

The walls of O’Neil’s ninth-grade world history classroom at Akron Early College High School are full of posters of superheroes and memes, co-mingling with prominent world leaders, illustrations of WWI weapons and photos of past freshmen taking part in an annual mock trial.

“I tell people that I meet that I’m a teacher and they tell me, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ And then I always tell them that it’s one of the best jobs in the world,” O’Neil said.

His passion for teaching may be rivaled by another passion: running.

“Once you cross that finish line and once you’ve executed that race the way that it should have been executed, there’s no greater feeling, that sense of accomplishment,” he said.

O’Neil, who ran track in high school, didn’t come back to the sport and marathon running until his late 40s. On Monday, he will be running his second Boston Marathon. He initially qualified and ran his first in 2019, but suffered through an IT band injury the entire race.

“You put in so many hours and so many things can go wrong over the course of a marathon,” he said.

The hours of preparation couldn’t prepare him for the surprise his students were planning Friday. During the final period of the day, students and staff lined the hallway at the school, clapping, waving signs and giving him a sendoff before his trip to New England.

“I saw a crowd of students. I thought maybe there was a fight, but fights don’t happen at Akron Early College High School,” he laughed. “Then of course I saw students smiling and signs and it dawned on me that this was a sendoff for the Boston Marathon.”

The students sent him off with words of encouragement.

“He should think about what he worked towards to get there,” Kovach said.

Franklin added, “We all think he can do it.”

O’Neil said it was a memorable moment.

“I can’t describe the feeling to see all the students you teach, and just to have that connection… We do consider ourselves to be a family here. That’s just one of the many things that makes this school such a great place to be,” he said.

O’Neil ran the Erie Marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes to qualify for Boston. Monday’s marathon festivities kick off at 6 a.m. and the first wave of qualifying runners starts at 10 a.m.

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