Homecoming 2013 was a true celebration of community at Westlake High last weekend.
Special needs students Jacob Cox and Holly Thomas were named King and Queen before Friday’s football game against North Olmsted.
The crowd erupted in an explosion of green and white pride as the PA announcement was made. Holly donned a tiara and Jacob was topped with his crown.
The message of compassion was felt deeply by those involved day in and day out with Westlake Schools and the Down syndrome students who were honored.
“This idea came from our students. I am just so proud of them,” said Westlake High Principal Tim Freeman.
“I am beyond blessed,” said Jacob’s mom to a TV reporter. “These kids at Westlake High School are awesome and they are wonderful, caring kids.”
Jacob and Holly were nominated to the Homecoming Court by a vote of the student body – two of just six seniors who were honored.
The excitement built Friday afternoon as Jacob and Holly took part in traditional Rose Arch ceremonies that took place in the school gym. Enthusiasm exploded as the royal couple were announced at the game.
Before the afternoon assembly, media interviewed Jacob and Holly, and also student peers who team with Down Syndrome and other special needs students during every school day.
“I think I am the one who learns more from her,” said sophomore peer Gina Vanderver of her relationship with Holly.
Like the other students who volunteer in the peer program, Gina spends study hall and gym time with special needs students. No class time is taken, even though it is the life lessons that come through loud and clear.
“I wish I could be more like her, she is so loving, so easy-going. She is my best friend,” added Gina.
Football lineman Elias Leon towered over the couple – an image of compassion. “They are great,” he said with a smile.
For Holly’s mom, Lori Thomas, the message of care resonates deeply.
“As a parent of a special needs student, one of the things I worried about from the time Holly was born was being accepted by her peers,” she said. “To see this love and acceptance is beyond words.”
“We appreciate all the peers that help out both in our classroom and in the community. I am so fortunate to work for a school district that prides itself on acceptance of students with disabilities. We are so proud of Jacob and Holly,” said their teacher, WHS Intervention Specialist Katie McGlynn.
Westlake Homecoming 2013 will also be remembered for more than this year’s extraordinary homecoming ceremony.
The new Westlake High School was dedicated Saturday morning. Jacob and Holly cut the ribbon.
Then the football team staged a stirring comeback to defeat North Olmsted, 29-28, Saturday afternoon to complete Friday’s storm delayed game.
Whatever the future holds for the new WHS and the students that pass through its halls, one thing is certain:
Homecoming 2013 will always be remembered for its very special king and queen and the time Westlake High showed the world how to celebrate the power of community.