Danny Leideker did something that would be difficult for anyone when he was in middle school. He asked a group of 8th-grade students if they would be his friend.
Leideker approached them on a lunch break. It was a move that would be the beginning of a very special relationship between a group of students as they went through high school.
Special because Leideker has Asperger's Syndrome. His father, Wayne Leideker, said the kids who brought his son into their circle of friends should be the group of people that he protects him from, instead they are protecting him.
"Four years ago he put his hand out for some friendship to a group of kids and instead of those kids turning away and turning their back instead they reached out and pulled him into their circle," said Wayne Leideker.
Wayne Leideker said his son has made huge strides in his social development because of these kids.
"Having autism, you're in that bubble, that autistic bubble," said Wayne Leideker. "That core group of kids, Eddie and Shay and Blake and Maya and Kirsten and Mitch and Kimberly, back in the 8th grade they found a crack inside of that autistic bubble. And they found a way to get inside of him and help him develop his social and self confidence to a level that my wife and I and the school system would never have accomplished in four years."
Eddie Walterhouse is one of the students who befriended Danny Leideker in the 8th grade. The two have stayed friends through high school, even when they went to different schools.
"He is just one of the greatest kids I ever met in my life. He has brought joy to my life in ways I would have never thought that could happen," said Walterhouse. "We just wanted to make a new friend and what came out to be a long lasting friendship."
Walterhouse and Leideker are in their senior year. Walterhouse and his friends wanted to make this a memorable year for Leideker so he helped him become a manager for the football team. Leideker is on the sidelines during every game.
The friends also sit with Leideker on his lunch break and try to get together after school once in a while.
Leideker's father is thankful for what Danny's classmates have done for his son.
"It's just the tolerance and acceptance and it makes it much easier for these kids to walk the halls of the school and know they're not going to be verbally assaulted," said Leideker.
Leideker was nominated to homecoming court and Wednesday during the powder puff football game he was crowned the king.
The crowd erupted into applause with Leideker's friends surrounding him.
"I believe what the students have done has been heartfelt, if you will. You know, they wanted Danny to be part of it," said Russ Ciesielski, principal at Linden High School.
"People have to know that people with disabilities still are great people and just to get to know them," said Walterhouse.
Leideker will be in a parade this weekend and attend his first dance as part of the homecoming festivities.
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