The Hempstead Tigers were easy to spot as they turned onto the high school grounds Saturday morning at the end of their homecoming parade.
Many of the students were wearing blue and white apparel and neon carnival masks and were led by former New York State Gov. David Paterson, sporting a "Grand Marshal" sash.
Paterson, who is legally blind, graduated from Hempstead High School in 1971. He was the first disabled student to attend the school district and among the first black students to attend the district. The Hempstead school board recently renamed Fulton Elementary School in his honor.
"Whether you're in the ministry, healthcare or education or business, you can always come back to the neighborhood that raised you and help a hand to the local kids who are there now," Paterson said to the crowd in the pre-game homecoming celebration.
After the school board presented Paterson with a plaque to celebrate the occasion, students from the local elementary and middle schools danced and sang. Student attire varied from all black to school colors to neon, carnival-inspired gear to match the school’s homecoming theme.
Lashana Wright, 33, of Uniondale, came to support her daughter, Tiara Peavy, 12, a student who performed in the pre-game show. She was surprised to see Paterson but was pleased he showed up for the occasion.
"I didn't even know he was from the Hempstead area but I'm glad that he did come back to the area to let people know that you can make it in life and you don't have to be stuck," she said.
Souneka Charles, a sophomore at Hempstead High School, was critical of Paterson’s visit. She said there was “no point” unless he planned to help the community in some way.
"If he's gonna help our community grow and get better... that would be better,” she said.
As Paterson addressed the crowd before the Hempstead High School football team took on the Freeport Red Devils, he encouraged parents to get involved for the benefit of their children.
"I hope that anything that happens today will be an inspiration and that a kid from this field will become a leader in the community, maybe a governor or a President of the United States," Paterson said.