Homecoming was always thought to be a night where students were recognized and cheered for being the most popular and having the most friends, until recently. A remarkable trend that seems to be catching on in schools across the country, students are using the night to uplift, encourage and embrace students like Danny Leideker, who happens to have autism.
Danny, an 18-year-old football team manager, who has Asperger’s, a high-functioning type of autism that can make developing friendships difficult, was recently crowned homecoming king at Michigan’s Linden High School, according to WJRT.
Walterhouse, part of a small group of students who befriended Leideker in eighth grade and are trying to make Leideker’s senior year memorable, is also on the homecoming court and was lined alongside Leideker on the Linden High School’s football field waiting to hear the king’s name announced during the school’s powder puff game.
“I was just praying to G-D that he would get it,” said Walterhouse.
Walterhouse, who was filled with emotion tonight, said Leideker is a great kid who has brightened his wo
Danny’s dad, Wayne Leideker, said that Eddie and the other boys “got inside that autistic bubble and they have been able to develop him and grow him socially and his self confidence to a level my wife and I and the school system could have never accomplished.”
When Leideker rejoined his peers in high school, they stuck by him and made him manager of the football team. But Leideker was not the only one to benefit from the relationship, Michigan Live reports. “There’s more to life than school and football and he’s shown me that,” Walterhouse said.
Spectators were extremely enthusiastic about their new royal court and the stadium was filled with cheers of “We love Danny,” but Walterhouse said the crowning ceremony had been nerve-racking. “I was just praying to God that he would get it.”
St. Louis Park High in Minnesota’s students made a similarly heartwarming statement when they crowned Jake Hamilton their king last September
As a toddler, Hamilton was diagnosed with a form of autism so severe he could communicate only through sign language, KARE 11 reports.
Susan, Hamilton’s aunt, adopted the boy as a child and remembers going to his middle school teachers with fears the boy would be bullied. “But Jake doesn’t [get bullied]” she said. “We don’t know exactly why. Kids really like Jake.”
Once the votes were tallied and Jake, the manager of the basketball team, had earned the most votes of any student in the high school, Susan said she never for a second thought it might be some sort of cruel joke.
The example set by teenagers at Linden, St. Louis Park and other schools is one that students at a West Branch, Mich., high school would do well to emulate.
Ogemaw Heights High School made national headlines in early September after it was discovered that a group of students had nominated an often-bullied sophomore for homecoming queen as a cruel prank.
The story of Whitney Kropp has a happy ending, however. Her community rallied around her, convinced her to go to homecoming and packed the stadium, taking an powerful stand against bullies everywhere.