Buffalo Grove crowns seniors with Down syndrome king, queen
In the end, it was a slam dunk. When the names of Amanda Ewald and Brett Wilkinson were announced Friday as homecoming king and queen at Buffalo Grove High School, very few were surprised.
Students and faculty alike erupted in cheers, while their grateful families hugged one another in joy.
They had done it. After defying expectations since they attended grade school together at Riley Elementary School in Arlington Heights, and later London Middle School in Wheeling, the pair basked in the thrill of a lifetime: they walked around the gym, wearing their crowns and robes while the entire school community cheered.
But this was no fairy tale. As seniors at Buffalo Grove, both are honor students and participate in sports and multiple activities. The fact that they have Down syndrome does not define them, their parents say, and their classmates agree.
"They have grown up with this class, so everyone knows them," says Kristen Prokup, special education division head at Buffalo Grove. "They are enthusiastic, optimistic and just have infectious personalities."
Dave Wilkinson, Brett's father, puts it this way: "When I'm with him at a football game, everyone knows him. It's like I'm with a celebrity."
In fact, both Brett and Amanda participate in the school's spirit club, or Blue Crew, which leads the student body in cheers. Brett often stands in front and leads the cheers himself.
During the school day, Brett is an elected member of the class board and he is a member of the boys swim team, specializing in the 50-yard freestyle event. Out of school, he is an altar server at St. Edna's Church in Arlington Heights and participates in competitive dance with the Bataille Dance Academy in Barrington. His preferred specialty? Hip-hop.
Amanda also participates on the girls swim team as well as on the bowling and badminton teams. Her favorite activity, however, is appearing in the musicals put on by the Schaumburg-based UPS for DownS, or United Parent Support for Down syndrome.
Earlier this month, Amanda was cast as Dorothy in the organization's production of "Wizard of Oz." They began rehearsals two weeks ago, and while Amanda will share the role with another actress, she already is clicking her ruby slippers to make sure it's all not a dream.
Both sets of parents say their children have thrived as a result of the inclusion programs at their schools growing up. They attended mainstream classes beginning in kindergarten at Riley, before moving into special education classes at London, and then having their curriculum adapted at Buffalo Grove. However, both students have followed a fairly traditional schedule, including math, chemistry and world history.
When their names were announced at the assembly, their respective siblings were almost as excited as Amanda and Brett themselves.
Amanda is the youngest of five siblings, who all have attended Buffalo Grove. One of her older sisters, Meghan, posted on Facebook that Friday was one of the best days of her life. Brett's younger sister, Brooke, is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove. She, too, described the event as a dream come true.
"My parents have fought for inclusion for my sister her entire educational career, and worked so hard to give her the best opportunities," Meghan Ewald wrote. "Today, my parents' hard work -- and Amanda's drive to never give up and always keep going -- has proved there are no limits to what my she can do. Her abilities are endless."
Brett's family agreed, but his father put an interesting spin on the coronation. "We have worked to keep him in an inclusive environment since he started school," Dave Wilkinson said. "But when we started this, it was obvious that it would benefit Brett. What we didn't know is how much it would benefit his classmates."