When Casey Scott was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 5, his parents knew his life would hold a lot of challenges. In a wheelchair since elementary school, it has sometimes been difficult for Casey to fit in with his peers.
But one day this fall those peers rallied around Casey, chanting his name as he was crowned homecoming king at Lake Zurich High School.
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Casey, 18, of Lake Zurich, is just one of several inspirational homecoming stories around the suburbs this year as teenagers show they can be more accepting than stereotypes might suggest.
"You usually hear bad things about kids today, but the number of kids that came up to him and congratulated him was amazing," said Casey's mom, Vonnie Scott. "This is one of those good stories. Everyone likes to see the good guys finish first."
Scott said her son is quiet and doesn't complain about his situation, so to see his classmates rally around him, jumping to their feet, and several teachers moved to tears as his name was announced, was a meaningful moment.
Casey never imagined he'd be named to the homecoming court, and he had to cancel a scheduled college visit for the day when he found out he was nominated.
"I'll remember it forever, everyone cheering and saying congratulations," he said.
That weekend Casey went to his first high school dance, danced with the homecoming queen and came home to a slew of new Facebook friend requests.
It was a grass-roots effort that created a lasting memory for Thomas Broviak and Krissy Altersohn, a couple with Down syndrome who were named homecoming king and queen at Geneva High School.
A few students posted a message and a photo of the couple on Facebook, and the idea spread from there, said Emma Williams, a teacher and student council adviser.
"The typical Geneva prototype for homecoming court is football player or a cheerleader, and I think the students were just ready to see a different type of kid be represented and be recognized," Williams said.
After the votes were counted, teachers told Broviak and Altersohn that they had won, and then prepped them on how to wave in the parade and bask in the cheers of their classmates.
Although bullying can be a reality of life for many students, no matter their life or abilities, Williams said she's been proud to see all different kinds of students embraced when negative stories of bullying can be so heartbreaking.
"I think we're lucky to work with the kids we do here," she said. "I'm sure some bullying happens, but what I see are accepting kids, and this is just an example of how gracious they can be."
Krissy and Thomas wore their crowns to school the week after homecoming, still enjoying the moment.
"In some schools they may have students who stare at them and say 'What's wrong with you?,' but here they are welcome, people give them high-fives in the hallway," said teacher Mike Glebinski. "They got to my heart on this one; it really made me proud."
At Round Lake High School, homecoming was about more than just a crown or a moment this year; it was about making a statement and setting an example.
Bougest Sutton and Bryant Jenkins were named homecoming king and queen, the first same-sex pairing to win at the school.
"We wanted to make a difference in our school and do something that has never been done before," said Sutton, a senior who came out during his sophomore year of high school. "We wanted to show that the LGBT community is here and we are not afraid."
The two, who are friends but not a romantic couple, passed out fliers and rainbow cupcakes to spread the word and gain support for their nomination. Although most people responded positively to the idea, Sutton said he was still shocked when they actually won. People cheered and ran up to congratulate the two of them, as the two friends hugged.
"I was just in disbelief that people actually voted for us," Sutton said.
"I didn't imagine that my little school would be this supportive and accepting."
Sutton said he understands coming out is a difficult experience for many teens but hopes his success story can help others through it.
"I'm blessed to have such a support system. We each have our own stories of coming out and how we got to be as proud as we are, but we look back at all of it now and are able to smile because it brought us to this," he said.
As Sutton heads off to college next year, and to a whole new world of introducing himself to people and hoping they accept him for who he is, he said this year's homecoming will stay with him.
"It gives me a little bit more hope in humanity, hope that I don't have to worry walking down the street," Sutton said. "I'll take the attitude and that confidence with me."
Sutton's mother, Tamyra, said she couldn't have been prouder of her son's moment in the spotlight.
"I know it's taken him a long time to embrace who he is, so to see the growth and confidence he's gained, I was overwhelmed with joy," Tamyra said.
"It was good for the boys to see that people will embrace them for who they are."