Remarkable teen reigns at St. Louis Park High

11:10 PM, Sep 24, 2011   |    comments
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  • Jake Hamilton at Homecoming Game
  • King Jake Hamilton and Queen Shelby Cullen

SAINT LOUIS PARK, Minn. -- The Orioles of St. Louis Park High did not fare well on the football field Friday night, losing their homecoming game to Spring Lake Park.  But this week the student body scored a different kind of victory, when it was time to elect a king.

They crowned Jake Hamilton, a special needs student, as homecoming king of the high school in this Minneapolis suburb.

"I didn't want him to get his hopes up too high, but Jake was convinced he was going to get it," Jacob's mother Susan Hamilton told KARE. "And I said, 'Okay, well, whatever happens happens. That's great!"

Jake's prediction came true at the coronation Wednesday.

"They did it dramatically," Jake recalled, "It was pretty fun. I'm grateful for all the voters out there."

Jake has been defying expectations his entire life. As an infant he doctors said he suffered from global developmental delays and failure to thrive.  By kindergarten he was diagnosed with a severe case of autism.

Susan, Jake's biological aunt, adopted him when he was a toddler. She raised him with her former partner Kris Warholm, who shares custody of Jake.  They also adopted a younger boy, Justin, who they met at the same foster home.

The family's network of friends and the teachers in the special education program at the St. Louis Park Schools have all played major roles in helping Jake function well in the main stream.  But his own self-confidence has also been a key factor.

"When Jake came to us he couldn't talk. He used sign language," Susan recalled. "And now we can't get him to stop talking. It's so funny!"

Jake said he normally gets a heads-up from the school's principal if there's going to be a drill alarm, because he's sensitive to loud noises. But this week much of the noise has been about him.

He was right in the center of things at Friday's pep rally in the high school gym, doing a his own version of the John Wall dance routine.

"All the senior girls had to be screaming loud when they saw me go out there!"

His "Jake Wall Dance" has become a ritual he uses to motivate the boy's basketball players in his role of team manager.

"My job is giving them water at the timeouts and getting them pumped up at the beginning of the game," Jake explained.

Susan said that Jake, like many children with speech problems and autism, can have trouble establishing relationships with peers.  And that was the case with Jake early on, but in his junior high years he began to form good friendships.

"I can remember when Jake was in junior high telling one of the teachers my biggest fear is the bullying aspect because kids get picked on," Susan remembered. "But Jake doesn't. We don't know exactly why. Kids really like Jake."

When he out polled the most school's most popular kids and topped athletes for homecoming king Susan never doubted the sincerity of the St. Louis Park students.

"At first someone asked, 'Are the kids being mean?' No. Jake genuinely has friends and is very liked."

News of Jake's nomination prompted a flood of support on his Facebook page, where Jake now has collected 510 friends.

"I have to admit maybe I don't know all of them but I know a lot of them," he laughed.

Jake's moment in the sun was not complete until half-time of the homecoming game, when he appeared at midfield with the royal court.  Jake said even without all this attention he'd still be smiling.

"I smile a lot. I'd be happy either way!"

Copyright 2011 by KARE. All rights reserved.

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