ASHTON — During a time when people seem to be willing to do or say anything to be the center of attention, students at Hannan Junior/Senior High School recently made sure their homecoming spotlight was not on themselves as individuals, but solely on one special student.
Hannan is a small school, with students and staff embracing that label and, in fact, they consider it to be one of their greatest strengths.
Like many classes at Hannan, this year’s senior class has basically gone from grade school through high school together — everyone knows everyone else. Contained within that senior class of athletes, academics and FFA members is Tyler Connor, a special-needs students. Tyler has come to know his senior classmates over the years and they him. Though there are differences between them, they are all Wildcats.
Tyler, along with fellow seniors Gabe Runyon and Josh McCoy, were nominated for Mr. Wildcat for this year’s homecoming festivities. Prior to the voting, Gabe and then Josh approached Dr. Karen Oldham, principal at Hannan, with the idea of making sure Tyler was voted Mr. Wildcat. Oldham said there was a consensus among the seniors to make this happen and she “100 percent” supported the idea.
“That (kindness) is a lesson you can’t learn out of a textbook,” Oldham said.
However, not every plan goes accordingly and on homecoming night, when Mr. Wildcat was announced, it was Josh’s name that was called, not Tyler’s name. Josh said he was shocked and had already told his own mother he wouldn’t be winning. He said later he determined it was an innocent mistake, attributing it to the underclassmen not knowing who Tyler was, and that was why the vote was a surprise.
What was not a surprise was that his senior classmates did know who Tyler was and took matters into their own hands. When the sash and crown were delivered to Josh, instead of accepting them, he delivered them to Tyler. Though Tyler has difficulty with his speech, his classmates said when he realized he was their Mr. Wildcat, he smiled and raised his arms in a victorious moment typically reserved for those who score a touchdown on the football field.
“I felt he deserved it more than we did,” Josh said as to why he and his friends chose Tyler as their Mr. Wildcat. “He’s always got a smile on his face … he always supports us and does whatever he can.”
Tyler is known for his enthusiastic support and loyalty to Hannan athletics, with brothers who have played sports and also attend the school.
“He’s a big fan of Hannan,” Pamela Kelly, Tyler’s mom said, adding football is his favorite.
Pamela, who was at homecoming to support Tyler, as was her husband Dwayne, said she didn’t know what her son’s classmates had planned. She said it wasn’t until Josh began walking toward Tyler that she figured it out. She is still overcome with emotion when recalling that night.
“I can’t put it into words,” Pamela said when trying to explain how she felt in that moment and about how she felt regarding the gesture of her son’s classmates. She referred to the moment as a “blessing” where she got to see so many people thinking of her son on one special night.
“After Josh put on the crown, and he (Tyler) got all set, he took a bow,” Pamela said.
As a mom, Pamela said she wasn’t sure if her son grasped “what was really going on” but knew it made him happy, as did going to the homecoming dance later that night where he “danced and danced.”
The best way to describe Tyler, according to his mom, is: “He likes everybody.”
His classmates obviously like him, too.
Senior Maggie Waugh, who was named Miss Wildcat, has known Tyler since their days in grade school and said both Josh and Gabe “have big hearts.” She feels the two young men giving Tyler the crown wasn’t based on any trend or desire to recognize themselves. She said they did it simply because “they felt it was the right thing to do.”
The right thing also happened on the field for the Hannan Wildcats football team on homecoming, defeating Hundred High School, 39-22.
Reach Beth Sergent at [email protected] or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.