JEFFERSON COUNTY – One of the biggest traditions for any high school is homecoming. When Frank DeAngelis started at Columbine High School 35 years ago, he never missed a homecoming - until September 2013.
"He is truly like a father to all of us. He's a mentor and a role model," Madison Van Osdoll, Columbine High School senior class president, said. "It's crazy without him here."
When DeAngelis announced plans to retire at the end of this school year, 9NEWS launched a project to follow DeAngelis from the first day of school this year through the last. The project is called "Rebel with a Cause." His cause to create a school community that is centered on more than the tragedy of 1999.
Instead of attending homecoming, DeAngelis was in Washington D.C. meeting with dignitaries and fellow principals from around the country. Students, teachers and parents at the homecoming game understood, and they were rooting for a victory 1,700 miles away from the football field. DeAngelis was one of six finalist for National Principal of the Year.
"One of the things that bothers me a little bit is I am known because of safety and security because I've been a part of it," DeAngelis said. "But I have other leadership qualities, you know."
The National Association of Secondary School Principals puts together this award to honor school leaders dedicated to academic excellence.
"He is the kind of person that so many schools should have," Joann Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP, said. "It is our privilege to acknowledge him here this evening."
At homecoming, students and teachers believe DeAngelis deserves it because of his commitment to the school and his high expectations.
"He tells you what he wants and what he expects," Lee Andres, a Columbine teacher, said. "He's upfront about these things, and I think that's one of his greatest strengths."
At the awards ceremony, DeAngelis received specific praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"Everyone works hard. Everyone here has accomplished extraordinary things, but thank God, no one has had to go through what Frank went through there," Duncan said. "His leadership, his tenacity, his staying with it through unimaginable difficulties and staying the course not for himself, but for his kids. It would've been a lot easier to leave and go do something else."
DeAngelis did not win the award. Though, he was the only finalist to receive an emotional standing ovation when he took the stage. The real winners of all this may be the people thinking of DeAngelis at the football stadium.
"He's been instrumental in keeping us together," Andres said. "We are still Columbine because of Frank."
Stories on DeAngelis will run through Thursday on 4 p.m. at 9NEWS and 9NEWS at 9 p.m. At 9 p.m. on June 7, 9NEWS will air a one hour documentary called "Rebel with a Cause" which includes expanded material not seen in the previously-aired stories.
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)