by Kevin Kelley
It’s safe to say that no Westlake High School student has ever demonstrated more school spirit than Chad Dilillo.
Chad, a special needs student, has been at Westlake High School since 2006. Now that he’s turning 22, the age at which special education services end in Ohio, the time has come for him to move on. After taking an extended spring break in Florida, where his family has a home, Chad will begin working at Bridges Rehabilitation in Middleburg Heights.
But the students and staff at Westlake High School wouldn’t let Chad leave without a proper goodbye. So on Thursday, they gave Chad a “State Sendoff,” which the school gives individuals or teams who qualify for the finals of a state athletic championship.
In a state sendoff, the honoree, accompanied by the school’s cheerleaders and marching band, marches through the school as the rest of the students cheer.
Chad, who has Williams syndrome, has been a fixture at Westlake High School athletic events since he was in middle school and earned the title of the Demons’ “No. 1 fan.”
“We just started going to every sporting event,” his father, Gary, explained.
Jeff Short, the Demons’ former varsity baseball coach, named Chad as the team’s bat boy, a position he held for eight years until June, when he retired after Short stepped down as coach.
One day, between innings of a Demons baseball game, Chad began calling on the crowd to cheer. That began his career as Westlake High School’s No. 1 cheerleader.
“He leads cheers in sports for which there is no cheering,” his father said. “We’re the only school in the conference that has cheering at the wrestling matches.”
Demon coaches have called upon Chad to speak to their teams before and after games, and he’s led the football team onto the field many times.
But Chad also enjoys participating in sports. He has played in Special Olympics hockey and speed skating programs, winning the gold medal in the 100-meter long track event when he was just 14.
One year Chad joined the Westlake High School track team, participating in the 100-meter dash.
Like many high school boys, Chad likes the cheerleaders, and through his cheering and status as Westlake’s No. 1 fan he has grown close to the squad. On Thursday, he posed for numerous photos with the cheerleaders, who presented him with a photo of him with the squad.
On Thursday, it was the students’ chance to cheer Chad, and he loved every second of it. He was the center of attention, hugging every students entering the cafeteria for lunch and giving interviews to local TV news crews.
“Those cheers really make me happy right now,” Chad said of the students’ attention. “I’m a big fan of the school. The students, cheerleaders and coaches do a lot for me each day.”
“He loves everyone here,” his father said. “His love and his attitude and his joy for life is infectious. And it make everybody else smile.”
Both his father and Westlake High School Principal Tim Freeman said Thursday that the reality of his leaving the school probably hasn’t hit him yet.
“He’ll probably be pretty melancholy,” his father said. “He’ll probably cry a lot.”
But Chad said he still plans to attend Demons games, visit the school and keep in touch with former classmates and athletes on the Internet. And Chad has an entire wall at home filled with photos, team jerseys and other mementos given to him over the years, his father said.
Freeman said Chad not only excelled at supporting the Demons on the field, but also worked hard in the classroom. Although Chad participated in commencement exercises in 2010, he received his diploma Thursday from Superintendent Dan Keenan shortly after the conclusion of his state sendoff.