For high schoolers, there is perhaps no night more exciting than homecoming. Former and current students gather together to celebrate their school and cheer on its football team as the side takes on a rival squad from a local school. And oftentimes the game will feature a very special presentation during the half-time break.
That is because the gap in gameplay presents the perfect opportunity to crown the school’s homecoming king and queen. During this time-honored tradition, nervous nominees typically walk across the football field dressed to the nines in front of the peers who have voted for them. Then an emcee announces who will be walking away with the titles – and the bling.
Such a presentation took place in the suburban city of Keller, Texas, in September 2016. After the homecoming king and queen had been named, sparkling crowns were placed atop their heads in victory. But this ceremony would not end like all the others with smiles and waves from the winners to the assembled audience. On this particular occasion, in fact, the homecoming king gave away his crown and shocked the crowd.
Max Akin was a 17-year-old student of Fossil Ridge High School in 2016. And come September, he was looking to enjoy the dream homecoming. Not only was the young man a nominee for Fossil Ridge homecoming king, but he was all set to play quarterback for its football team that night too.
Akin’s friend and classmate K.L. Norwood, then 18, was also up for the title of homecoming king. Akin and Norwood had known each other since they were in elementary, but senior high school had really bonded the pair. “These past few years, though, we’ve gotten the closest,” Akin later told TV host Ellen DeGeneres on The Ellen Show.
The boys’ increasingly close friendship was partly due to them both taking part in Fossil Ridge’s football program. While Akin played quarterback, Norwood served as equipment manager. And even the team’s coach, Tony Baccarini, noted how strong the seniors’ bond had become. Speaking to the Sports Daily program on local TV channel WFAA, Baccarini said, “They love each other, and that’s why we’re successful.” But the coach went on to explain that it was Norwood who brought a “beautiful spirit to [the] team.”
In fact, Norwood’s appealing character is why Akin thought his friend was a shoo-in for the homecoming king vote. “I thought K.L. was going to get it from the get-go,” he told DeGeneres. Akin also said to Sports Daily that, in his opinion, a homecoming king “positively uplifts the school and everybody around him the most, and that person’s K.L. for sure.”
But it would not solely be up to Akin to decide who would win the crown. Fossil Ridge’s entire student body had casted votes to elect senior nominees to the school’s homecoming court. Then the top-five boys and top-five girls would be placed on another ballot, from which students would decide who would win the ultimate titles of king and queen.
Of course, neither Akin or Norwood would know who had won until homecoming night. And when the evening arrived, Norwood was dressed in his finest suit for the ceremony. His friend, however, had had no time to switch clothes after playing in the first half of the game, so at the appointed time, Akin walked across the field in his football outfit.
The cheers for the nominees as they each made their way across the grass and assumed their positions on the edge of the football field eventually died down. The hush that fell over the crowd allowed everyone to hear the announcer’s voice loudly and clearly as he revealed the name of the homecoming king: Max Akin.
“When I was announced, I was in complete and utter shock,” Akin told DeGeneres. “Of course, I was honored and everything.” But Akin didn’t feel that he fully deserved the title, so the quarterback made a bold move: he took off the crown which had so recently been placed on his head. And when the crowd saw what Akin did next, it was their turn to feel complete and utter shock.
“I saw K.L., came over and gave him a hug,” the quarterback told Sports Daily. Then, with the crown in his hands, Akin dropped down on one knee, bowed his head and held up the shining accessory to the man he did think deserved the honor of homecoming king: Norwood.
For Akin, it was an easy decision to make. “I knew that he wanted that crown more than anything,” the quarterback explained later to WFAA. And to be fair, it seemed that the Keller crowd was in full agreement with Akin; as Dallas high school news website Sports Day reported, people in the stands were chanting “K.L., K.L.” over and over again.
But the Fossil Ridge fans would not be the only people with Norwood’s name on their lips. Soon enough, pictures and video from the school’s homecoming ceremony lit up social media, which in turn attracted the wider media’s attention. Many news outlets chose to lead their stories with one particular detail about Norwood – the young man suffers from cerebral palsy.
Norwood, in fact, was born more than three months before his due date, weighing a mere one pound and 13 ounces. And if that weren’t enough, he had suffered a feet-first birth, which caused a bleed on his brain. Doctors in the delivery room therefore had to insert tubes into both sides of baby Norwood’s skull in order to drain off the blood. Needless to say, the newborn’s prognosis was grim.
Given his condition, Norwood was immediately placed on life support. Doctors then told his mom and dad that their son would probably never walk, see, hear or talk. No matter what kind of future Norwood was going to have, though, his parents were resolute. Norwood’s mom, Linda, told Sports Day, “Fruit expires, food expires, but life doesn’t have an expiration date until it’s done. Since he wasn’t done, we said we’d give him an opportunity to fight.”
And fight Norwood certainly did. Over the years he miraculously transformed from a barely-there preemie into a sociable, well-loved and hard-working high schooler. Norwood never allowed his cerebral palsy diagnosis to define him, and neither did his friends – least of all Akin. In fact, the quarterback told DeGeneres, “I think people are getting it mixed up thinking that I gave him the crown because he has C.P.”
“I don’t see K.L. as a disabled person,” Akin continued. “I see him as a great human being. And, as a homecoming king, you should really be able to make people happy and give good vibes all over the room, and K.L. never fails at doing that.”
And on that September night at his school’s homecoming game, K.L. himself was able to experience the sheer happiness that he has always made others feel. The newly crowned homecoming king really felt the love returned. “I felt really awesome,” he told DeGeneres. “I felt like I was the only person in the stadium in that moment.”
Of course, adult life has only just begun for Akin and Norwood, both of whom graduated from Fossil Ridge with plans to go to college. This life step was made even sweeter on TV when Ellen DeGeneres presented both boys with an out-sized check for $10,000 to go towards their college funds. And with that gesture, it seemed that the host had heeded Akin’s words from earlier in the show. With reference to his abdication and immediate coronation of Norwood, the quarterback had told DeGeneres, “If you’ve ever got a chance to make somebody’s day or make somebody happy, you should take that chance.”