Pearce senior Finnley Byres didn’t attend two football games this season; Pearce lost both. Coincidence? Finn doesn’t think so. The Mustangs need him as much as he needs them.

Sister Francesca is a sophomore cheerleader at Pearce. She urged Finn to audition to become JJ, the high school’s mascot. While initially somewhat lukewarm to the idea, Finn quickly realized that it sounded like fun.

“It really lets me be like a kid, dancing around and having a good time,” Finn says. “And no one will judge you if you do weird things in the suit.”

Finn Byres as JJ

It’s an apt image. It’s tangible. Finn considers himself a high-functioning autistic. Others consider him to be just another teenager navigating his own way through life. Either way, Finn loves his role as mascot, cheering for the Mustangs and having a good time doing so.

“Every teacher who has had any interaction with Finn all say the same thing — he is a unique kid, with great work ethic and a great personality,” Pearce teacher Kallie Hayhurst says.

“He might need a little more one-on-one help when organizing his schedule, but he’s always so appreciative when we help,” according to Hayhurst, who advises him as varsity cheerleading coach. “Finn has the most Mustang pride I’ve seen, and he has single-handedly marketed JJ in a positive manner; we now have several kids wanting to try out for mascot next year.”

Hayhurst said Finn didn’t take off his costume head during football games because he didn’t want to break character and ruin the fantasy for the little kids in the crowd.

“I didn’t realize he wasn’t taking breaks, so at one point he almost passed out due to heat. I laughingly got on him,” Hayhurst says. “I love his dedication, but I explained how he has to take care of himself. This has for sure been a learning experience for Finn.”

The Pearce varsity cheer squad.

Finn loves the anonymity of the mascot costume even if it doesn’t fit right. But at 6’5” and still growing, finding a perfect fit is a daunting challenge.

Finn’s autism allows him to combine images in his head into a cohesive narrative, or like watching a whole movie from start to finish.

“I may struggle sometimes to socialize and struggle to focus, but it’s because I think differently,” Finn says. “I think in pictures.”

One of the pictures he has in his head revolves around a dance scene wherein Finn, in costume as JJ, finishes his routine by jumping into the arms of Pearce Principal Mike Evans.

Be on the lookout for this sure-to-be-hilarious bit at a Pearce basketball game soon.

Pearce Lucky To Have JJ was originally published in Richardson ISD Newsdesk on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.