The Port Townsend High School varsity girl's basketball game isn't over yet, but there's already a huge victory happening in this gym—Nick Hamon is sitting in the bleachers, chatting up his friends.
"He doesn't talk. When people do hear him say something they’re shocked,” said Nick’s mom Brandi Hamon.
Nick hasn't talked in school since 6th grade.
Now, he not only talks. He's on the cheer team.
Brandi Hamon noticed her son was different when he was a baby. But she didn't seek a diagnosis until he was 5.
"I just didn't want to label,” she said. “And I'm OK with the label now. It's an important label. He is autistic.”
Nick grew into a tall kid with a big personality...that he kept hidden.
“He has this sense of wit. He's a jokester,” said Darlene Marmol, a special education teacher at Port Townsend High School.
"I knew that we had to do something to try and see if we could break him out of his shell because he was choosing not to speak here at school,” she added.
Then, after giving him nutritional supplements for stomach pain, something else happened:
“He requested to work with the cheer squad," Marmol said.
"I was worried how he was going to do,” admits Kirsten Hammer, Port Townsend’s cheer coach.
"But after that first week seeing him with the girls and the other two mascots on the team every concern that I had went out the window really."
Now, he's a high-fiving, sign waving PT Redhawk. And he's after the mascot job.
We overheard him grilling one of the students who wears the ‘Rico the Redhawk’ costume:
"Does it get hot in that thing? Can you see in it?" Nick was asking.
Mom Brandi says that simply sitting in the crowded noisy stands and chatting with fellow students is a massive accomplishment for someone with autism. And when she sees Nick go out on the floor and help with cheers and welcome the team onto the court? She says it’s taught her not to put limits on her son.
“I always thought that my son was never going to be part of a group, never be part of the social group. And to see the kids really take him in and really embrace him it's just super emotional for me.”
Nick has found his voice -- and it's a typical teenagers:
"The girls like having him at practice. He likes to joke with them, he likes to give them a hard time - he doesn't like their music, he only likes rock music,” laughed cheer coach Kirsten.
After the Redhawks win in overtime, Nick joins his squad for a post-game tradition: going out on the floor, putting their arms around one another, and singing Port Townsend's Alma Mater.
Everyone has something to celebrate tonight.
"He is doing what all of the other kids do,” smiled Brandi. “He's talking, he's laughing, he's having fun. He's typical. And he's getting to enjoy something that all the other kids always enjoyed."