Wheaton North embraces prom king with special needs
At Wheaton North football games, Sean Doran is the superfan, dancing to pregame music on the field, pumping up the crowd to cheers of "Go Seany!"
At the Mr. Wheaton North talent contest, he is the fearless entertainer, performing to LMFAO's hit "Party Rock Anthem."
In the hallways, he is the outgoing guy, introducing himself to nearly everyone he comes across and high-fiving his buddies.
Sean recently was crowned prom king, a fitting honor for one of the most dedicated students at the school, teachers and coaches say. And it's a testament to the inclusion from his peers, a "dream" his parents hoped for when he was born with Down syndrome 19 years ago.
In high school, Sean wasn't the target of misguided comments or cruel bullying, his mom and dad say.
"We couldn't imagine that he would be so embraced," said his mom, Patricia.
"It's hard because I never thought I'd see this," his dad, Michael, said, with tear-filled eyes. "All you really hope for is just for him to be accepted and have a smooth high school experience. It's gone far beyond that."
When Sean started high school, his parents suggested he become a manager of a team as part of his individualized education plan, or IEP, partly because Sean is a die-hard sports fan, rooting for the Green Bay Packers in Chicago Bears territory. They hoped it would foster that sense of inclusion.
That initial goal mushroomed into a host of activities.
Sean is manager of both the men's varsity volleyball and football teams. And he's a competitor himself, taking part in all three sports -- basketball, bowling and track -- available through Wheaton-Warrenville Unit District 200's Special Olympics program and earning ribbons, medals and trophies.
Adam Ferguson, a director of special services in the district, hailed Sean as a star athlete, particularly on the basketball court.
"He's now one of our leaders on the team," said Ferguson who oversees Special Olympics.
Sean relishes singing and dancing, too. He recently directed a men's choir concert with a performance of The Four Seasons' "Sherry."
At the Mr. Wheaton North contest, he finished in second place in the fundraising portion by collecting more than $100 in donations at Wheaton North for Special Camps. The Winfield-based nonprofit group offers a week of camping for special-needs kids at White Pines Ranch in Oregon, Ill. Sean will join in horseback riding, archery and swimming at the camp this summer, where his sister will be a counselor.
He finished second runner-up at the talent contest, donning a costume modeled after pro wrestler John Cena.
"He says 'never give up,'" Sean said of his favorite athlete.
As for the LMFAO routine at the contest?
"He brought the house down," dad Michael said.
He's also a member of Flock, a student-based group that brings together special-needs students and their peers to spark a sense of community at Wheaton North. They host pizza and mini-golf events, Halloween and Valentine's Day parties.
And he pushes students to recycle, as well, collecting bins after classes.
In 11 years of teaching, Ryan Baker, the volleyball coach, said Sean is one of the "busiest kids" he's ever known.
"It's impossible to walk through the hallways with him without him having to stop and say 'hi' to everybody," said Baker, whose wife, Lucia, started Flock.
"He's the perfect example of the type of kid who's dedicated to his school," Baker added.
Sean said he just likes to meet new people.
"I always introduce myself," he said.
After graduation Sean will begin the district's transition program, focused on independent living and vocational skills.
"He has a big legacy at Wheaton North," said P.J. Impola, a linebacker on the football team and outside hitter on the volleyball team.
Impola will study special education at the University of Illinois next year, motivated in part by his friendship with Sean and experiences as a teacher's assistant in special education classes at Wheaton North, including one with Sean.
In any classroom, there are frustrations with new concepts, but when Impola's students master them, "how much pride they have in themselves is really awesome," he said.
Sean's enthusiasm translates to the football team and volleyball team pasta dinners, Impola said, where he is consistently cracking jokes. Sean can chow down on more pasta than most of his teammates, Impola said laughing. And remember, Impola is a linebacker.
"Everyone loves Sean Doran," Impola said.