For Betsy Daniel, an 18-year-old student at Chester High School in South Dakota, memories of this year’s homecoming week will always have a special place in her heart.
Betsy’s smile and outgoing attitude earned her this year’s coveted title of homecoming queen, her classmates told USA Today.
The proud young lady walked the school hallways with a smile as bright as her sparkling tiara. She shared her honor with fellow students, her parents, and the entire community.
"The tears of happiness just keep coming," said Betsy’s mother, Connie Daniel. "I'm overwhelmed that the community and the school would do that for her."
Betsy’s victory was especially cheered by families of other children with Down syndrome who know her from the Special Olympics.
"It's really amazing to see. There was a time when they were never even invited to go to prom; so to be the king or queen is just phenomenal," said Special Olympics spokesperson Kirsten Seckler.
According to USA Today, Betsy Daniel’s experience is not unique. Students at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, erupted in cheers last month when James Keefner, a classmate with Down syndrome, was crowned homecoming king.
Two years before, the crown was worn by Luke Sachs, a teenager with autism.
At Free State High in Lawrence, Kansas, Owen Phariss, a student with Down syndrome, was disappointed during homecoming elections earlier this year when his name wasn’t on the ballot.
His friends started a petition calling for a new vote. They collected 800 signatures, prompting school administrators to hold a second election with Owen’s name added as a candidate.
Owen’s mother Nancy Holmes said that many students know her son well because she always insisted on integrating him into regular public school classes.
Seckler of the Special Olympics explained that when children with special needs take part in group activities like sports, they “start to feel accepted and included in their society and in schools, and their confidence grows and they excel.”
That was definitely the case for Owen, who couldn’t wait for his chance to be elected homecoming king.
"He's so pumped," said his mom. "And it won't surprise me if he does win."