Kerry Starks was already one of the most popular of the 2,200 students at John Ehret High school before Thursday.
He’s a senior defensive end on the football team.
A goalie in soccer.
A hurdler in track.
He has a 3.0 grade point average.
And he’s always making his classmates laugh.
So it’s easy to see why he garnered 54 percent of the student body vote when it came time to elect Mr. Patriot during last week’s homecoming.
Chances are, if they voted again, he’d get the full 100 percent of the vote.
Starks was announced as homecoming king on Thursday during Ehret’s pep rally.
He was presented with a signed football, a sash and a crown.
He wore the crown for only a few seconds before giving it up to classmate Denzel Parker.
Chances are, you don’t know who Denzel Parker is.
He hasn’t made any tackles or sacks for the Ehret football team. He doesn’t have a scholarship to play college football like Starks does.
He never will.
Parker was born with cerebral palsy and was born deaf.
So he couldn’t hear how loud the gymnasium was when Starks passed the crown on to him.
“The whole gym went crazy,” said Sheena Smith, Ehret’s athletic director. “They were already excited about spirit week. Then when it was announced Kerry won, they got even more excited because that’s who they voted for. Then when Kerry gave his crown away, it was a feeling of ‘that’s why we voted for him.’ ”
Smith says there weren’t many dry eyes in the gym.
Starks, a 6-foot-1, 225 monster on the football field, was barely able to hold his tears back.
“My heart started pumping fast when I got ready to do it,” Starks recalled. “I was shaking, almost in tears. My whole face was shaking.”
Parker, sitting in his wheelchair in the gym, didn’t try to contain his emotions.
“He can’t talk, but he can show expression, and you could see he was overwhelmingly excited,” Smith said.
And he still was a day later on Friday when reached via Facetime as he headed on a trip out of state.
“I was really thankful,” said Parker through his interpreter, Antione Lagarde. “I was surprised.”
Parker can give Starks the credit.
But the assist goes to Starks’ little brother, Dre Dre.
Like Parker, Dre Dre also has cerebral palsy.
“It just came from my heart,” Starks explained of the gesture. “I thought about my brother. I can’t do anything for him right now, but at least I can do something for somebody like him.”
Starks’ brother is unable to talk, but he can hear.
“We’re really close,” Starks said. “I wish I could talk to him.”
But he can’t. So he goes out and does the next best thing: Let his playing do the talk on the football field.
Starks is a key component of a defense that has three shutouts and has held six of its nine opponents to 8 points or less.
“Kerry is what I call my utility guy because he can play so many positions,” Ehret coach Corey Lambert said. “He is having a tremendous year for us.”
Parker has had similar athletic success.
He competes in wheelchair races, and the softball throw and bowling in the Special Olympics. He is a four-time champion at the Gumbo (Games Uniting Mind and Body) Games.
He showed his determination on Thursday when he insisted on standing up to take a photo with the rest of the homecoming court.
Starks and Parker have known each other since the ninth grade.
They’ll go their separate ways in a few months.
Starks has already verbally committed to Grambling, and his goals are to eventually make it to the NFL.
Parker, meanwhile, says he wants to work at Wal-Mart.
He can return to Ehret next homecoming to give his crown away.
The guy who gave it to him will no doubt be welcomed as well.
“There were two things that made it big,” Smith said. “One, kids at Ehret don’t see that type of stuff every day. And two, we don’t have another Kerry. They didn’t get to see Kerry the football player or the Kerry that clowns around in class. They got the real Kerry.”