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Cardinal Pride takes Newton

Keeton, Cheng crowned Homecoming King and Queen; Hundreds gather for annual parade

The NHS Cardinals Varsity Football team celebrates during a pep rally in Newton's downtown square 
following the Homecoming Parade.
The NHS Cardinals Varsity Football team celebrates during a pep rally in Newton's downtown square following the Homecoming Parade.

LaNita Keeton might have been nervous as her daughter Tessa strode onto the stage at Newton High School yesterday, but Tessa wasn’t.

At Thursday’s coronation ceremony Benny Cheng and Tessa Keeton were crowned Homecoming King and Queen as friends, classmates and parents cheered wildly.

“My tummy was fluttering for her,” LaNita Keeton said. “She just told me this morning that there was no reason to be nervous, it was done, and whoever gets it, gets it.”

Keeton, president of the student council, is also a multi-sport athlete, participating in track, cross country and soccer. Even though she’s a senior and a member of the marching band when she rode into Newton’s square Thursday night its was the first time she’s had a chance to be part of the homecoming parade.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Keeton said. “I’m really excited, it’s been a busy week so far but it’s going to be a great weekend.”

If Keeton needed a few pointers on the homecoming parade she didn’t have to look too far, her counterpoint, Cheng has never missed a parade. A center on the Cardinals football team Cheng said the parade is one of his favorite events of the school year. When he heard his name announced in gym Thursday afternoon he couldn’t believe his ears.

“I honestly never thought that I’d win it,” Cheng said. “I get along with everyone, but in our class there’s a bunch of guys that really deserve it.”

Being the center of attention at the parade doesn’t mean that Cheng can forget about being the center of the Cardinals as he prepares to anchor the offensive line during Friday’s tilt against Burlington. As busy as this whirlwind homecoming week has been, he’s still focused on football first.

“I don’t think there’s a bad part about this week, everything that we do is so much fun,” Cheng said.

As the excitement of homecoming week builds, parents are just trying to figure out where their kids need them to be. Both the Keetons and the Chengs felt nervous leading up the coronation assembly, even as their kids enjoyed every moment. For LaNita Keeton, who teaches second grade at Aurora Heights Elementary, it was the first time she realized how deep the community’s support for the school runs.

“I’ve never been to this (coronation), I was oblivious to everything that happens, I had no idea it was such a big deal,” LaNita Keeton said.

For David Cheng, Benny’s father, seeing his son up on the stage was one of his proudest moments as a father. Traveling for business, he doesn’t always have time to catch up with his son, and on Wednesday night when Benny asked him to come to school for the coronation practice he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I’ve always told him, whatever you like, just go out and do it, I’ll follow you,” David Cheng said. “I’m just so proud of him.”

On Friday night the homecoming king and queen will be easy to spot at the big game. They’re a big part of Newton High School, even beyond their newfound titles. Benny Cheng will be anchoring that Cardinal offensive line, tossing the ball back to his quarterback, and at halftime Tessa Keeton will take her place in the line of trumpets with the rest of the Cardinal marching band. You won’t have to look hard to see her, she promised she’d hold on to a little of her flair from Thursday’s ceremony.

“Tomorrow night I’ll march with my crown, everyone will know if I mess up,” Keeton said, with a laugh.

The homecoming parade, also held Thursday, was led by the band is annual tradition of homecoming week. Students at NHS spend all week decorating their floats as classes compete to see whose entry will fly the highest this year. Former NHS Principal Gary Kirchoff was chosen to be the parade’s grand marshal this year, and he and his wife waved grandly from the back of the convertible as the parade rolled into the square on a unseasonably warm September night.

Following Kirchoff was the homecoming court, with King and Queen Benny Cheng and Tessa Keeton. The cheers got the loudest at the end, as a truck pulling a flatbed trailer rolled into view with the entire Cardinals varsity football team.

Head Coach Ed Ergenbright stood in front of his undefeated team, flanked by the homecoming king and queen and thanked the community for their support. The marching band started to play, and as the crowd surged out into the streets Newton overflowed with Red Pride.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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