(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Three Tennessee homecoming king nominees made a unanimous decision that no matter who won, they would give the crown to a beloved student with a genetic condition.
Students Jesse Cooper, Drew Gibbs and Zeke Grissom were all nominated for homecoming king at Community High School’s basketball homecoming ceremony.
The teens got together and decided that the winner would turn over the honor to junior Scotty Maloney, who has Williams Syndrome, a neurological disorder that inhibits learning and speech.
“I’ve been blessed with so many things,” Cooper told ABC News Nashville affiliate WKRN-TV. “I just wanted Scotty to experience something great in his high school days.”
“He’s always happy, so he deserves some recognition for who he is,” Gibbs said.
Cooper won the popular vote for king, but when the official announcement was made at a Friday ceremony, the principal told the crowd what the nominees had decided to do.
“When they called [Scotty’s] name, his eyes got really big and I don’t know that he registered exactly what was happening. He knew something was,” Maloney’s teacher, Liz Hestle Gassaway, told ABC News. “It was very, very emotional.”
The crowd erupted with cheers and Maloney got a long standing ovation, WKRN reported, as he was awarded his “King” medal.
“It was just a ton of emotion from everybody,” Grissom told WKRN. “I think I saw Scotty shed a few tears. I know Jesse was pretty emotional. We were all emotional out there on the court.”
Maloney is a beloved teen in his school and in the community, Gassaway said.
“Scotty is fabulous. He is a superstar. He knows everybody. There’s not one person that Scotty does not know,” she said. “To know him and meet him is to love him.”
Gassaway believes that the nearly 500-student school in Unionville, Tenn., is “one of the best schools in the world when it comes to dealing with special needs children.”
Students like Cooper help out in special needs gym classes and other activities. Gassaway said the boys’ gesture toward Maloney sent a greater message.
“We want people to have more empathy towards people, not be scared of people with disabilities,” she said. “We want them to embrace them, more like the boys did.”
Next year Maloney will get to crown the school’s new homecoming king. But for now, he is proudly sporting his medal everywhere he goes.
“He’s been wearing his medal around,” Gassaway said with a laugh. “He is not here today because he had a doctor’s appointment, but I’m sure he has his medal on.”
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