Hahnville students rally around autistic classmate, nominate him to homecoming court

James Colly Jr. is in many respects an average teenager.

The 16-year-old senior has a fondness for pizza, comic books, graphic novels and movies. A bit younger than most students in his class, Colly, whose birthday is in November, started school a year early. There is another difference between Colly and students – he has autism.

Despite his condition, Colly was voted this year to the Hahnville Homecoming Court.

Phil Bychurch, special education teacher at Hahnville High School, said despite Colly’s autism he is not viewed as different from other students, but is accepted for who he is.

“I don’t think people see it as that. I think a lot of people see it as James is James. He is just a special person in general. He is loveable. He is just a big teddy bear type and I think the kids just take it in,” he said.

Colly is a New Orleans native who moved to Boutte after Hurricane Katrina with his parents Gail and James Colly Sr. Upon hearing he had been selected to this year’s homecoming court, Colly said he was shocked.

“It came to me as a surprise. It means I am supposed to be special,” he said.

Colly said he is thankful to his fellow students for voting him onto homecoming court.

Hahnville Principal Ken Oertling said the student body selecting Colly to the homecoming court is indicative of the culture of the school.

“I just think is shows the support our student body has for everyone regardless of situations students may be in. James is truly a part of this school and the kids have a lot of respect for him and I think by knowing that they truly treat him as one of their own. I love it,” he said.  

Although Colly has autism, he takes courses with the regular student body and has already passed all required classes for graduation.

When asked to summarize how sees himself Colly had a few words.

“Average, smart guy. Average and artistic, yet unique and likeable,” he said.  

In addition to taking regular courses, Colly is taking advanced TV production courses at the Satellite Center this year and is a fixture in the TV production trailer at Hahnville football games where he helps lead the behind the scenes work of capturing games on film.

“I could see James be a producer someday. He has enough of a concept of what it is all about,” Bychurch said.  

As the owner of more than 200 DVDs and Blu-Rays, Colly has a deep knowledge of TV and films that he is now pursuing through coursework.

Bychurch said the transition to the Satellite Center was difficult at first for Colly because he is very schedule oriented.

“When we had to make the transition to the Satellite Center it was hard for him because he doesn’t like change. He knew his routine was to be in here and it is always a little difficult for him,” he said.

However, Bychurch said that once adapted Colly takes charge of whatever situation he in.

“All of the teachers we have up here have put in their little bit of input, but James is what makes the motor go. Sometimes in the halls we can’t even keep up with him. Because he knows where he needs to go, he knows where he wants to go and wants to do and we are just there for that support to make sure he is going in the right direction,” he said.  

Colly has a deep knowledge of film productions that he continues to hone on a daily basis by reading online blogs concerning his areas of interest.

“I know something about Heaven’s Gate. It had a very troubled production because of rain delays and accidents and secondary meddling,” Colly said. “Rocky Five – there was supposed to be a director’s cut that was never released but apparently it was better than the actual cut.”

Although he has a career interest in TV and film production and hopes to continue his education in the field in college, Colly said he just likes learning.

“I like learning about the past and just for giggles,” he said.  

Colly is more drawn toward animated films and TV shows, in fact he estimated that about 58 percent of his DVD and Blu-Ray collection is made up of animated productions, especially those featuring superheroes.

“Some superheroes are more like us sometimes. Other than having amazing superpowers they act like human beings and want to have girlfriends and have jobs and try to have an ordinary life,” he said.  

After graduation, James plans to attend Delgado Junior College to major in TV broadcasting.

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