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Eton Academy holds student-run homecoming festivities

Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle - 10/24/2017

BIRMINGHAM - Without belonging to an interschool football league, many students at Eton Academy used to feel they were missing out on a key part of the high school experience.

That changed six years ago, when they began their own homecoming tradition.

Eton Academy teaches students in grades one through 12 with learning disabilities such as dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome. There, children can learn to succeed in society despite extra challenges.

"Powerhouse" Harrison Barrack sprints down the field as part of Eton Academy's annual homecoming game. Students were divided into two teams to play each other in an intramural matchup Oct. 13.

Photo by Deb Jacques

However, many who attended the school didn't want to miss out on the excitement of having a school football team or the fun of a formal dance, so they convinced administrators to host an intramural homecoming football game and a formal homecoming dance.

"This was our sixth year playing it," said Pete Pullen, the head of school. "A group of students said they wanted a homecoming event like a dance and a sporting activity that goes along with it. They worked alongside the teachers, and they came up with a flag football game and a dance on the following Saturday."

The students in grades nine through 12 are separated into two teams, the Dogz and the Bullz, and they spend weeks preparing for the big game.

"They practice for about six weeks, all for this one game," said Mallory Opiela, the school's athletic director, physical education teacher and alumni coordinator. "A lot of effort and energy goes into this one thing, and it turned out to be really cool this year. This is probably the most-attended homecoming game so far, and there were 150 to 175 people. Alumni came back, parents of alumni came back - there was definitely a different vibe than in years past."

The Dogz beat the Bullz 28-24 after a hard-fought game. Eleventh-grader Evan Zingas, who played wide receiver and running back in the game, said getting to be part of the game is a very significant moment for him and his classmates.

"We don't usually have a regular football team, so this is a unique experience. Most other students get to go to the games or play on the team, and to get that as part of our school experience is really important to students here," he said. "Everyone is really excited for the games, and passionate, but we all come together as a family and as friends. It's very focused on sportsmanship and looking out for each other."

Each year, the students pick a different cause for the proceeds of the game to benefit. Past years included the American Cancer Society, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of America. This year's cause was the American Red Cross' hurricane relief efforts. More than $1,200 was donated.

"This is a student-focused activity event. Each year as we begin to ramp up toward the game, the students work with the athletic director (to) decide what the greatest need is outside of the school, and they reach a consensus about where the money goes," said Pullen. "They landed on hurricane relief because they felt they hadn't made a strong enough show of support earlier when they did a fundraising campaign earlier in the year."

Zingas said that having the game and the dance be student-led, and getting to choose the charity they give to, makes the school's homecoming festivities extra special.

"It's mostly student-driven, so we all come together as like a family and have fun. We make this event, and it's special in that sense," he said. "If we're going to do all of this, we figure we would give the money we raise doing it to a good cause. We chose to donate to the hurricane relief efforts down in places like Texas and Puerto Rico because they're causes everyone should support."

Pullen said organizing and getting to participate in the homecoming game and the dance are not just fun for the students - they're also beneficial.

"It's probably one of our most important events at our school because it is more student-driven than any other we have," said Pullen. "Our school auction is parent-driven. Graduation is guided by the teachers. This event goes to who we are and teaches students to make decisions and take initiative to shape the world around them. They learn sportsmanship and learn a lot about one of the more popular sports played in our country."


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