Breaking barriers at Homecoming halftime

Second Place (tie), Feature Writing


Christina Valle/Northgate High School

Northgate senior Gus Xepoleas, who was born with Down syndrome, was crowned Homecoming king at halftime of the school’s Sept. 27 football game.

Northgate High School broke barriers at its football game on Sept. 27 — not for passing or scoring — but for challenging the status quo at the halftime Homecoming ceremony.

Students returned kindness with kindness by handing the Homecoming king’s crown to Gus Xepoleas. Gus is a senior who works as teachers’ assistant and who was a manager for the school basketball team last year, but he stands out for more than just his amiability — he accomplishes all this with Down syndrome.

“It showed how people are very open and appreciate people who are special in their own ways,” said Associated Student Body President Arthur Yan, an organizer for the Homecoming celebration. “It shows our senior class is very aware of who people are.”

He added that students recognize the kindness Gus brings to campus.

This is not the first time Northgate seniors have crowned a student from the special education program in a Homecoming ceremony. Students did so in 2016, as well as another time about 15 years ago.

Seniors also voted Abigail Cheung Homecoming queen from a court that included 16 nominees: 8 girls and 8 boys. Seniors nominated their peers through a series of ballots sessions in their government classes. The winners were announced on game night.

Senior Ellie Taylor, a nominee for queen who walked the red carpet, said she was pleased to be part of the entire event.

“I was really proud to be included with such intelligent, hard-working and kind-hearted people, which you don’t always see with this kind of pageantry,” Taylor said.

Most of the excitement and enthusiasm of the evening centered on Gus, who is well known and a local celebrity of sorts. He has been on television news twice for his participation in high school events that are typically populated by the average go-getters.  His recent coronation got him an exclusive story on MSNBC.

“I’m jealous,” his younger sister, sophomore Grace Xepoleas, kidded with a smile when asked about the attention her brother had received.

All joking aside, she is encouraged by the way her brother is accepted in the student body. “I feel the students really enjoy him and see how he makes an impact on campus,” she added.

“Northgate High School in general is very inclusive of the special education students,” said special education teacher CristineValle. She said students are known to stop by room 77 to say hello to her students daily, and that on Thursdays, members of the general population in the Best Buddies Club bring their lunches to eat in class and socialize. .

For Gus, walking along the red carpet set out on the field and through the balloon arch was an exaltation.

Gus works as an office assistant during school hours. Students often greet him with fist bumps and high fives.

 “When he won, I wasn’t really surprised at all,” Valle said. “Everybody at Northgate knows who Gus is.”

“I think for the first time in a long time it wasn’t so much a popularity contest, but showed students recognizing nice and caring people,” senior Eden Broussard, ASB vice president said.

Gus wearing the homecoming crown makes a powerful statement: Students with special needs are a crucial part of the high school community. His crown is a laudable symbol for inclusiveness.

This story was an honoree in the 2020 Lesher Awards competition.