The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Nothing stops this Mustang Band percussionist

In a red and white striped vest, with his drum sticks grasped tightly in hand, first year Ricardo Leon zips down the football field with a huge smile, ready to perform during halftime. His older sister Emilia watches from the student section.

“It’s exciting and I’m nervous for him at times, because I know I’d be nervous myself. But he’s a pro since he did halftime shows in high school as well,” Emilia said.

Eighteen-year-old Leon is in a wheelchair. Born with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT), a form of muscular dystrophy, he does not let the daily struggles stop him from being an average college student. Instead of getting frustrated, he works around his disability.

“I usually go to class with at least 15 minutes so I can get wherever on time,” he said. “I mean I try to get early to the classroom so I can sit in the front. I kind of have to.”

Leon, who is majoring in civil engineering, wants to be an architect when he graduates. But don’t ask him to design a house. He wants to create large buildings.

Leon also has a passion for art. He excels in landscape art with his drawing and latex paint techniques.

“I paint something that [the customer] will like,” Leon said.

His work now sells for $100 to $200.

“I’ve been painting throughout high school and I’ve just now started getting into painting for people and selling paintings,” Leon said. “People ask if I can paint them something and I say ‘sure.’ The one I’m working on now is for a friend that lives in Austin.”

His other infatuation is music. It’s what most students at SMU know him for: the band. Mustang Band Director Don Hopkins, believes Leon is the first person in a wheelchair to play in the Mustang Band.

Leon has been playing drums since fifth grade. It’s what inspired him to play marching snare drum in high school. The one thing different about the Mustang Band compared to his high school is the tradition behind being in band. SMU’s traditions include the candy-stripe jackets, high-step marching for songs and making the shape of a diamond M on the field. While attending Bishop Lynch High School, he played marimba or xylophone in what the band calls the pit, which stood in the front of the field. At SMU, he has the opportunity to join in the marching tradition.

“I’ve never been on the field before-in the middle of the field,” Leon said. “It wasn’t that intimidating at first. It still isn’t. I never really get nervous.”

One of the four other snare drummers that march along side Leon is Michael Clinton. Ever since band camp, Clinton has noticed how confident Leon acts around everyone.

“He has a great sense of humor and he’s comfortable enough to make fun of himself,” Clinton jokes as he remembers a time when he was too tired to carry his drum. “It had been a really long day outside and we were all exhausted. I turned to him and said ‘I’m so tired. Ricardo, can you carry my drum for me?'”

Clinton has also seen how the CMT has been difficult on Leon. Bandmates have to help carry his drum for him. There is no handicap section where the band plays in the stands. Leon’s dad has to brace him and help him walk down the stairs to get to his seat.

A few buildings around campus have also been a challenge. There are some places where Leon wishes for a ramp. He had to switch his classes from Dallas Hall to Clements Hall because his wheelchair was not able to fit in the elevator.

SMU’s Rebecca Marin, coordinator for Services for Students with Disabilities, is there to help. She makes sure that students with disabilities are able to get around campus easily and have access to programs and activities, giving them the same opportunity to be successful. On average, 325 to 350 students register their disabilities with the school each semester. Marin believes six to 10 percent of students have disabilities. Only three students on campus are registered with wheelchairs.

“The vast majority of students who seek services or accommodations through my office are individuals with hidden disabilities, particularly learning disabilities and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder,” Marin said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states that individuals with disabilities may not be subject to discrimination. SMU makes sure to uphold to the standards with the help of Marin.

Leon goes to Marin whenever he needs help. When he first arrived at SMU, he had to send a few notes to Marin asking her to have maintenance fix the Umphrey Lee automatic door button. He said at one point there was no button. It was just wires sticking out.

“I’ve had some door issues,” Leon said

Leon always makes the most of the situation he’s in, Clinton said. He’s always been positive. He’s not afraid to ask for help.

“He always has a smile on his face,” Clinton said, “always.”

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