Garrett with his Homecoming date and Best Buddy, “JoJo.”

Senior has first, best Homecoming with Best Buddy

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Friendswood High School senior Garrett Burtzlaff had a very special Homecoming. He had a date, he rode in the Homecoming Parade on a float, was involved with the football team and had a limo to take him to and from the game.

These events for his senior year will never be forgotten by him, his family and the people in which he interacted at the game. Burtzlaff had never done any of this before. He has Down Syndrome and autism and has been in FISD since he was 3 years old.

He has been with the Class of 2017 for quite a few years, according to his mom, Brenda Burtzlaff and will graduate with them.

While at FHS, he has been involved with the Best Friends Club, an after-school program that facilitates friendships and relationship building skills between students with and without special needs.

“Our goal is to learn new skills through a variety of fun activities and build forever friendships with our buddies,” group sponsor and Burtzlaff’s Quest/Life Skills teacher Lena Creighton said.

One of his club buddies, Haley “JoJo” Aguilera, asked Burtzlaff to Homecoming so that he can feel included and experience it his Senior year.

“Asking Garrett to homecoming didn’t seem like a chore or an abnormality like some think it would be. I grew up with a younger family friend who had Down Syndrome and was around him and his friends almost every day,” Aguilera said. “It seemed like a no brainer to me that any sweet and respectful young man deserves to go to homecoming and be involved with the student body and if I could make that happen then he certainly deserved it.”

Aguilera made it happen.

Both rode on the Best Friends Float, they attended the Pep Rally Friday afternoon, had dinner with family and friends at the Aguilera’s home, rode a limo with friends to and from the game and was introduced with the Cheerleaders on the sideline.

He ran through the Mustang tunnel with the football players and Number 7 Varsity Mustang Reed Roher, then lined up with the team for the National Anthem. Burtzlaff was announced over the sound system at the stadium as VIP for the night.

“When you have a son as amazing as Garrett, it is always a hope that others will love him and accept him as much as I do. I met JoJo’s family and she really is an amazing girl. So selfless and kind,” Brenda Burtzlaff said. “When big things happen in Garrett’s life, he always remembers and talks about them constantly! I am sure I will be hearing about this amazing event for a very long time and his buddy JoJo.”

Aguilera’s main goal was to make sure Burtzlaff had a wonderful Senior experience but her second goal was one she also felt needed to be addressed.

“I believe I have brought some pride to my family just by being an example of love in my community but I think the real impact that this is having is within my group of friends. Although my main goal is to involve Garrett in one of the biggest school related events, my second goal is for my school to recognize him as an active part of the student body,” she said.

Story by Karolyn Gephart