(SUNNY SIDE UP: Will Bland at Pancakes-N-Things. Photo by Joel Rubin. )

By Joel Rubin

I just had to meet Will Bland.

After reading Larry Rubama’s profile of the Princess Anne High (International Baccalaureate Academy) grad in the newspaper, I was anxious to learn how this African American star basketball guard, homecoming king, student actor, creator of his own non-profit to help athletes with mental health issues, and MIT-bound wunderkind does it all. 

I asked his dad, longtime friend Gil Bland, who runs the local Urban League, if I could have lunch with his son, figuring he might say, “Will’s hanging with his friends this summer before he heads off to Boston. Don’t bother him.”  No, Gil immediately gave me Will’s cell number and said, “text him.”

To kill two birds with one stone, I invited young Mr. Bland, who scored 15.7 points-per-game to lead the PA Cavs to the state tournament (and a first-round loss) to join me and Delegate Cliff Hayes at a restaurant of Cliff’s choosing (that I could convert into a WINDSday partner. Also Hayes sponsored the legislation that enabled Dominion Energy to proceed with its CVOW wind farm project, and Gil testified in Richmond on its behalf).

Hayes, an NSU grad and Chief Information Officer for the City of Portsmouth, picked Pancakes-N-Things, a breakfast-lunch spot on Indian River Road. I had passed it often, not knowing it’s owned by Greek immigrant Alex Angelos, who never finished high school but is so successful and admired that the GA passed a proclamation honoring him, his niece, nephew and son who all work with him.   

Into the mix comes a teenager that you might think would prefer to be anywhere else but breaking bread with three strangers 3-4 times his age. But as Alex kept the food coming (I loved the fried croakers), Will did more than tell us his sports triumphs (District Player of the Year, All Tidewater, All State) and college plans. He was curious about the cuisine. “How could a Greek-family-owned establishment on the VB-Chesapeake border have such a diverse menu and such good food?” he marveled when I quizzed him later. 

And the conversation? “The afternoon was nothing short of amazing for me,” he wrote. “Through talking about local and state politics, sharing stories of origin, chatting about baseball (Alex’s cousin owns the Baltimore Orioles, Cliff played in college, and I’m a crazy fan), I discovered the POWER of PEOPLE, and the importance of sustaining fellowship and community.”

Yes, Will Bland is special but not just because of his brains and jump shot. He wrote: “As a product of environments that have always prioritized growth, I have been consistently aware of the importance of forming relationships; in the most basic, foundational strain of human interaction–at least how I perceive it–every person, through either positive or negative impacts, offers another the potential to learn from experiences and perspectives. In this light, I have been committed to developing a communicative arsenal to reap these benefits. As a recent high school graduate, the ‘real world clock’ has begun to reverberate internally. I’m sure it has always existed, but the turning of the tassel has now strengthened its pulse.”

I was hoping that Alex and Cliff would appreciate Will Bland, and they were. But Will was even more impressed with them…and me. I have a feeling (duh) this Beach kid is going places. In fact, when I reached out to meet him, it was with the thought that I might be conversing with the next Obama, given that both are Black, brilliant, charismatic, curious and love hoops. Will also would like to be a lawyer.

MIT though should prepare him well, or so says its website:  “In 30 departments across five schools and one college, our students combine analytical rigor with curiosity, playful imagination, and an appetite for solving the hardest problems in service to society.” Tall order, even for a tall kid, but at least I can say I, and now you, knew him when.

And by the way, Will says he can’t wait to dine again at Pancakes-N-Things. Me too.