Special Needs Students Becoming Homecoming Royalty

Across the U.S., students are celebrating their special needs classmates.

October 10, 2010, 6:22 PM

Oct. 10, 2010— -- Across the country, a growing and heartwarming trend is putting crowns on some very special students. Several high schools have awarded their homecoming king and queen titles to special needs students this fall.

Recently in Austin, Texas, John Kiltz wheeled his daughter Gracie to the 50-yard line at the high school's football field in front of a cheering crowd.

"Someone had said she won by a landslide," John Kiltz said. "I mean to me, I was on the field with her and I said I kept whispering, you know I'm so proud of you, I am so proud of you."

Gracie Kiltz was 2 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. During her chemotherapy treatment she suffered brain damage, and today is unable to speak. But at her high schools' homecoming night, there was no need to.

"As soon as everyone started clapping, she gets it. She's like, 'yes, yes.' She understands," Lauren Walter, one of Gracie's classmates said.

The students at Austin's Georgetown High School didn't stop there, however. Jared Friemel, a fellow student born with Down Syndrome, was crowned homecoming king that same night.

"They called his name and he jumped up threw his hands in the air, waved and took off running," said Prince Vasquez, one of Friemel's friends.

"We are very proud of not just him but the whole Georgetown student body," Jared's mom Charlotte Friemel told ABC News. "They did this and have looked deep into who they are as a student body. Teachers didn't do this, the students did and have made two students very happy."

A similar king was crowned at El Dorado High School in El Dorado, N.M., when 19-year-old Abe Assad was crowned homecoming king in front of a packed, cheering crowd earlier this month.

"As great as Abe is, and as proud as I am of him, I think this is a story about the student body here, I think it's remarkable that a group of students will gather together to embrace inclusion and diversity," Abe's mother Vicky Assad told ABC News affiliate KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, N.M.

"This honor has already helped Abe become more social and has boosted his confidence," she said. "Nineteen years ago when Abe was born, I never dreamt that this sort of thing could happen, that people with disabilities would be so accepted and so admired for their confidence."

"I love El Dorado. I belong here," Abe told KOAT. He said the best thing about being homecoming king is "the hot babes. Chicks dig it."

Abe plans to attend Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell, N.M., and said he hopes to work in a sports office some day.

"It's really amazing to see, because there was a time when they were never even invited to go to prom, so to be the king or queen is just phenomenal," Kirsten Seckler, a spokeswoman for the Special Olympics, recently told USA Today.

Under federal law, students with special needs have the right to be in the same classes as the rest of the students. This has been incorporated well at high schools like Georgetown High School with a program called Peer Buddies, where average students interact with special needs students on a regular basis.

Such incorporation has helped students like Betsy Daniel, a student at Chester High School in South Dakota become a part of the everyday routine of high school.

Her classmates told USA Today that her winning smile and outgoing attitude during homecoming events led to her being elected homecoming queen, as students felt Daniel is everything a homecoming queen should be.

"The tears of happiness just keep coming," says her mother, Connie Daniel. "I'm overwhelmed that the community and the school would do that for her."