The weather only recently turned cold, but there probably was a little extra warmth in the air for the Glen Rose homecoming football game on Sept. 29.
Glen Rose High School students voted Laiken McAnear and her brother Landon as the Homecoming Queen and King for 2017. The fact that the siblings were honored together as the school’s “royalty” during halftime of the game against Lake Worth was a nice enough story.
But another factor made the night even more special for Landon, Laiken and their parents, Donnie and Julie McAnear.
Landon is autistic, and has a congenital brain malformation known as Dandy-Walker syndrome.
This spring, Landon will be graduating from GRHS along with Laiken in the Class of 2018.
Laiken, a member of the highly-ranked GRHS volleyball team, said sharing the Homecoming moment with Landon was a treat for the whole family, which also includes older brother Layne.
“I just thought it was something special because we got a chance to share it, and I know it meant a lot to my family,” said Laiken, who noted that the family moved here from Runaway Bay when she was about 2 years old. “We get along well. We’re close. It’s fun having him in school because he’s always at my sports events. He’s always the one I can hear in the stands. He gets really excited.”
GRHS Principal Kelly Shackelford indicated he was not surprised that Landon and Laiken were voted king and queen.
“Both of them are very likeable,” Shackelford said. “I don’t know anybody here at the high school that doesn’t like both of them. Their parents did a good job of raising them, for sure. You could almost feel that was going to happen, since you saw the nominations, based off how the students interact with Laiken and Landon.”
CART DRIVER DELUXE
Landon and his teacher’s aide, Pam Reynolds, took a few minutes out of class last week to talk about the Homecoming fun.
“I drove my golf cart,” Landon said of the carts the Homecoming nominees used on the field. “I drove fast in it. I liked it, and my mom and dad were out there.”
In the interest of public safety, and knowing her brother can be a little excitable at times, Laiken provided help controlling the brake pedal.
Landon said that in his classes with teacher Susan Dahl and Reynolds, he most enjoys it when he gets to do “work jobs” that include tasks such as refilling paper in copiers, shredding paper, cleaning cafeteria tables and vacuuming. He also enjoys field trips.
Landon is 21 years old, and most of his classes teach him independent living skills. The decision that he is ready to graduate came from a local special education committee known as Administration Review and Dismissal, Shackelford explained.
“Goals for each student are going to vary, depending on what they are able to do, so they can grow academically and socially,” Shackelford said.
‘ICING ON THE CAKE’
In an email to the Glen Rose Reporter, Donnie McAnear expressed great appreciation for all that the school system did to help Landon over the past 16 years. He wrote that seeing Landon named Homecoming King was “the icing on the cake for a little guy who doesn’t get to participate” in many things other students do.
“I can’t tell you the joy it brought to him, his brother and sister, his mother and I,” stated Donnie McAnear, who is in the construction business. “It says a lot about the quality of the kids we have at GRISD. Without the student body, it would not have been possible.”
DYNAMIC VOLLEYBALL TEAM
Laiken, 17, is in her third year on the varsity volleyball team under head coach Sandy Langford. She stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and is a right-side hitter for the Lady Tigers.
Langford’s volleyball squad has been incredibly successful, winning two consecutive district volleyball titles without a loss, notching 40 wins two years in a row and reaching the regional final in two of the last three seasons under Langford.
The Lady Tigers had been ranked No. 1 in the state and won their first 38 games this season before dropping one non-district contest.
Laiken, who participated in basketball, softball, and track and field along with volleyball as a freshman, had to have knee surgery after her sophomore year and was out of action for about six months. Now she’s focusing more on volleyball and basketball.
Laiken said that the 38-0 volleyball start this season — the school’s longest win streak in any sport — was “surreal.”
“It’s crazy to think we won so many games. It’s fun,” said Laiken, who wants to become a teacher and a coach after attending either Texas Tech or Tarleton State University. “I think the loss helped us to know we can be beaten, so it makes us work harder. And it relieved some of the pressure off of us.
“I want us to play with all we’ve got and with no regrets because we all know what we’re capable of. We have the drive. We just have to put it out on the court when we’re playing.”
Donnie McAnear said there “are no words” to express the family’s “heart-felt gratitude and joy for the kindness and love” shown to Landon during his time as a student in the GRISD.
“We moved to Glen Rose in November of 2001 with the sole purpose of getting Landon into a special needs program where he could thrive and have an as normal of (an) education as possible,” Donnie McAnear said. “After months of researching numerous programs around the state of Texas we made a phone call to GRISD.
“A sweet lady named Rhonda Cagle took our call and convinced us we needed to come visit, tour the campus and meet the staff that would be working with him. She told us there were no programs that could compare with the one she was a part of and that it would be a perfect fit for Landon. We visited on the Monday before Thanksgiving and moved to town the following Friday. She sold us on Glen Rose about 40 seconds into the visit.”
Unfortunately, Cagle died on May 1 of this year in a two-car accident just east of Glen Rose. She was remarkably popular among her Glen Rose students before retiring from teaching in 2010.
Donnie McAnear said the family is thankful for the “wonderful life-changing experiences” Landon has received as a GRISD student.
“I can’t say enough great things about the quality of individuals who have helped him along the way,” McAnear wrote. “Glen Rose is truly an amazing place to live and raise a family.”
On the other side of that coin, Landon seems to have provided some special gifts of his own to those who got to know him on his journey through school.
As Shackelford put it, “He just makes everybody around him better.”