Marcos de Niza High School students in Tempe knew who they wanted for homecoming king over the weekend — not a football player or Student Council officer.
The winner in a landslide was 21-year-old Poco Carton, a student with Down syndrome who receives services through the school’s specialeducation department.
Carton is well-known on campus and famous for his dance moves, which he performs daily during lunch. He goes out of his way to say hello to nearly everyone, and students in the hallways frequently stop to shake his hand.
"I’m Mr. Popular here, for this whole school," Carton said.
Students across the campus welcomed the break Friday from the usual homecoming winners.
"It’s always the same people, but not this year," said 18-year-old Kylie Taylor, a senior.
Danielle Cons, a junior who hangs out with Carton through the school’s Best Buddies club, said the whole school chanted "Poco! Poco!" Friday night when he was named king during halftime ceremonies at the football game.
"It showed that not just a football player could be homecoming king," Cons said.
After the crowning ceremony, Carton and homecoming queen Rose Bello, 17, took a victory lap around the football field in the back of a 1937 Jaguar SS-100 convertible — part of math teacher Dick Worthy’s personal fleet of antiques that has become part of Marcos de Niza tradition.
"It felt like Poco was the star of the night, and that didn’t bother me," said Bello, who said her own victory as queen also was unusual because she is a "band nerd" — not a cheerleader.
On Tuesday, Carton was still basking in his weekend glory.
"Inside me is really happy," he said.
His reign as royalty, however, will be short. Later this month, Carton will turn 22 and be too old for high school. His final day at Marcos de Niza will be Oct. 24, although he will return occasionally for assemblies.
He also will return in May to graduate with his class. And, of course, he will return next fall to crown his successor.
"When he leaves, it will be like we can say, ‘Elvis has left the building,’ " Student Council adviser Allen Reed said.
In the immediate future, Carton said he plans to continue his job bagging groceries at Safeway.
Carton also keeps busy as an athlete. He bowls and plays basketball and baseball in the Special Olympics. His best sport, he said, is bowling — with a high score of about 150. His next Olympic competition will be in late November or early December.
On campus Carton enjoys singing in the school choir, hamming it up in drama class and practicing his moves in dance class. "I’m going to miss choir," he said. For Cons, the secret to her Best Buddy’s popularity is obvious. "He’ll always cheer you up no matter what kind of mood you’re in," she said.