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Casper's Cool Kids

William Heili

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04/01/2007 - William Heili's dad Wayne smiles proudly as he describes another "That's William" event.

It seems that dad, having earned a much-needed veg-moment, was surfing the channels. He happened upon "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". The contestant was facing the million-dollar question, so Wayne stuck there to see if he'd get it right. Just as Meredith was reading the question in New York, in Casper, 10-year-old 4th-grader William was walking into his family room.

"Oh, that's easy," William said. "It's..." And he confidently gave an answer.

Was it the correct answer? William was sure of it. The contestant, not so much. William and Wayne watched as the contestant finally declared he couldn't answer the question and poof, there went his chance for the cool million.

When the correct answer was revealed, it turns out William was 100% right.

"I read it on the computer at school that morning," William tells me.

"And remembered it," says Wayne. "He remembers everything."

"He has a limitless curiosity," says William's mom Stacie. "He's bursting with knowledge."

As we talk in the Heili's living room, William's sisters, Sara 8 and Lauren 4, sit with mom and dad for a while. Eventually they wander off to play and pop in now and then to see how things are going.

So what are some of the things William loves doing and learning about?

"I've always dreamed of flying," William tells me. For his tenth birthday, he got to go up in a single engine private plane. He sat in the seat next to the seasoned pilot who was a friend of his parents'. As they accelerated down the runway, William got to take the controls and take off.

He circled above Casper for about 45-minutes and buzzed his house where his mom, who was a little apprehensive, watched from below.

"I didn't get to land because it was too windy."

So how could a kid who'd never flown before do all that? Because for years he'd played for hours on the flight simulator on his home computer.

"Flying the Cessna was only a little scarier than the flight simulator," William says.

When he was 3, William could name all the dinosaurs.

When he was in kindergarten, William and his dad made a geological time line that strung 30 feet across the family room- and kitchen floors. William quickly memorized each geological period and its characteristics. He still remembers them.

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At one point in our conversation, William and his dad discuss something that is clearly over my head. Way over. I'm fascinated but I struggle to follow. William is showing me something he brought from his room. It's a...well, it's either a fossil or it's a replica of a fossil or it's a... Never mind. Whatever it is, William tells me about it with confidence.

He says, "(something, something, something)... Paleozoic extinction at the end of the Permian Period when 90% of all life extinguished."

Wayne asks William, "Are you sure?"

William's sure. He dashes into his bedroom and returns with an encyclopedia opened to the right page and reads, nearly verbatim, what he just said.

"That's William," Stacie says laughing.

William is a cub scout, plays in the youth soccer club, goes to the Tate museum as often as he can, skis in winter, goes boating and tubing in summer, gets straight A's at Cresthill Elementary School, lists science, reading, PE, and computers as his favorite subjects, excels in math but doesn't necessarily like it, and won 1st place two years in a row in the Young Authors Competition.

William's favorite thing about Casper is "where it is. Not so populated or polluted."

In addition to William's fine attributes, he is also a fine young man. Affable, exuberant, polite, unself-conscious. He is another of our Casper Cool Kids on whom we can, I think, joyfully pin our hopes for Casper's future. And maybe not just Casper's, but the nation's, or even the world's.

I kid you not.

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