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201312061 VMHS-homecoming-king-queen featureMISSION—Cristian Bautista, a senior at Veterans Memorial High School, is much like the average student. An athlete, Bautista has a love for soccer and was named VMHS Homecoming King for 2013.

Bautista also has been part of the first steps with a new program for the campus and Mission CISD, called Project Unity-Meet in the Middle— a project that is headed by Special Olympics Texas and designed to promote acceptance and inclusion amongst students with and without intellectual disabilities.

Diana Cremar, adapted PE teacher, brought the program idea to the campus and fellow teachers Kathy Howell and Maricela Munoz quickly came on as facilitators.

“It is about breaking down walls,” Howell said. “The students learn about tolerance, building friendships that perhaps they might not have had otherwise. They get to see that just because people are different, they can still be friends.”

The homecoming king commutes around campus in a wheelchair decorated with foam letters on its headrest that read: El Rey and King. Instructional aide, Joe Daniel Cavazos, who spends his day working with Bautista, jokingly said Bautista had the foam letters long before he won the title.

Bautista is an award-winning athlete in the Special Olympics and has dreams of one day becoming an announcer for professional soccer. The senior was pushed to run by a homecoming queen candidate who is involved in Meet in the Middle, but used his own smarts and charm to become king. He explained during the interview process, he was very nervous but answered questions about his closest friends and how he would react in a situation where a classmate was being bullied.

“I would report it…to the principal,” Bautista said.

After the interview process, Bautista was chosen out of the other candidates, and given a crown that now sits in a room on top of his computer.

Cavazos added there was a huge excitement in Bautista when he was on the football field receiving his cape and crown. He and Bautista laughed together when they recalled the initial viewing of the crown, which was not exactly what they expected.

“He got a fill-in crown, because the real one wasn’t ready yet,” Cavazos said. “So he is getting his picture taken, and then he takes it off to look at it and in Spanish he said ‘Por esto, me gane?’ You know, I worked hard for this? But he did receive the real one at the homecoming dance and he was impressed.”

More than 40 students have signed up to be involved in Meet in the Middle, and Howell said though the group has just started meeting, members hope to bring more activities to unite the campus population. Students already initiated a campaign titled ‘Erase the R-Word’.

Cremar indicated Meet in the Middle should give students the chance to participate together in activities that focus on interactive, inclusive opportunities to increase acceptance and awareness of each student’s uniqueness while supporting fitness, disability awareness, academic achievement and sports-related training.

Bautista has had an outpour of support from his classmates on campus, many helped with posters and promoting his candidacy while others visited him during school hours to congratulate him on his win.

The homecoming king enjoyed the perks of being royalty at the VMHS Homecoming Dance, though he said he almost missed it to watch a soccer game. He said his mom made him go, but he did have fun.

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