PFLUGERVILLE, Texas - Hendrickson High School's Student Body President says Friday has forever changed the way this school looks at homecoming. It was more than a crowning ceremony, it was history.
It's a moment all made possible by the students at Hendrickson. Just like any ordinary school, peers nominate other peers to be on homecoming court for one of the year's biggest nights in football. But this year something extraordinary happened.
Olivia Fish is the VP of Unified Champions.
Fish says, “we didn't have to start a movement like vote for Ari, vote for Ronnie, vote for Chappy because what we've been doing making it a more inclusive campus, other people feel the same way it's not just us.
Homecoming King - Ronnie Brown, Homecoming Queen- Ari Licon and Junior Prince - Chappy Ross were all crowned last Friday night in front of thousands of people. All three of them have down syndrome.
Jodi Ross is Chappy’s mother. She says, “he came home and he was like I'm going to be under the Friday night lights tomorrow!”
But when their families initially heard they were nominated some had their guards up. Including Erica Licon, Ari’s mother.
“Unfortunately it's the society we live in and I feel like I'm on constant guard for Ari's concern. I didn't want her to be made fun of, I didn't want kids to be mean I didn't want anyone booing her. I made it very clear to her teachers if this goes sour we need to pull her from this,” Erica says.
Earlier this month ESPN recognized Hendrickson High School as one of the most inclusive schools in the nation. Last year they piloted a Unifed Champions movement, a program used to help embrace inclusion beyond the scope of just athletics.
Amy Wiesenhutter is Pflugerville ISD’s Special Olympics Coordinator. She says, “when you see any of our special education students walking the hallway a general education peer says hi or high fiving or hugging it really has changed the culture of this campus for the better."
Student body president Makayla Chamberlain says, “it's not just our organization it's our whole school and that shows the character of the school.
The families say Friday night changed them forever.
Licon says, “I never thought I could ever experience this with her. To me the real heroes in this story are the students of Hendrickson High School because they hose to see her with her heart and not her eyes.”
Ronnie, Ari and Chappy - days later - still in awe.
Ronnie’s sister Rashidah Alshams says, “I tried to get him to take his crown off before he went to sleep and it didn't work.He asked when we were getting ready for school this morning, am I still the king? And I said yes. Haha.”
Chappy’s mother says, “our children mean so much to them and it's changed the climate.”
The plan is to expand Unified Champions to other schools in the district.