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Crowning moment of respect

by on November 01, 2018 8:36 AM

BELLEFONTE — When Micah Heckathorne and Ashley Harter signed up to be part of the voting process for homecoming court at Bellefonte Area High School, the two long-time friends weren’t really worried about winning. They just wanted to have a typical high school experience. 

Life and school for the two seniors is usually not very typical. They both have disabilities that make life a little harder than it is for most students. But, as the BAHS students made sure of this homecoming, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a royal life — Heckathorne and Harter were voted king and queen.

They couldn’t be more surprised or thrilled.

It all started with a teacher's suggestion that Heckathorne, who is in a wheelchair and communicates with the assistance of a specialized commuter program due to cerebral palsy, and Harter, who has Down syndrome, give homecoming court a shot. It sounded like a good idea; after all Harter said she already was a “queen,” so it was only natural to be on the homecoming court.

They had to go through a round of senior class voting to end up on the homecoming court. Both worked hard to get the vote, handing out lollipops and soda, with Heckathorne telling his peers through his communication device, “I am in the homecoming court. Please vote for Ashley and me. Thank you. Would you like a lollipop? Soda for a vote-a, if you are a senior.”

When they made homecoming court, it was more than they have ever hoped for, but would the whole school really vote for these two friends to be the king and queen? After all, their disabilities limit their interactions with the rest of the school, and some of the younger students might not even know who they are.

Their life skills teacher, Rachael Davis, talks to them often about how their classroom has individuals with disabilities and how it is sometimes more difficult for Heckathorne and Harter to do normal high school activities. Both understand that this is true, but the two friends were not going to let their disabilities get in their way, and neither did the school population, which voted for the pair to receive the crown.

The big announcement came during the Oct. 19 homecoming game. Fellow senior Kaitlin Berkey was there taking pictures and she got to hand Harter her homecoming bouquet after the announcement.

“It was beautiful to see excitement in her face, and she said, ‘Thank you so much,’” said Berkey. “I started to tear up because it was just so sweet and so special that they got to do that.”

“It was an exciting moment for the entire class," said senior class president Max Kroell. "I know leading up to the game everyone was rooting for them and they had their poster up and they were giving out soda and stuff like that.

"They have been a part of our class since sixth-grade, when we all came together from the elementary schools. And we all know them.

We don’t get to see them much because they are doing their own things, but being able to see them be the king and queen and be a part of the court, it was a an amazing thing for the entire class.

“I think they really enjoyed being with our class and being showcased because they don’t get to do everything that we do all the time. So them being there being able to do that and win I think it just really meant something special to them.”

Teacher and student council adviser Jennifer Richardson said the moment was very special when their names were called. She was the only one who knew beforehand that they had won.

“Just the look on their faces when their name was called. ... At first, they called Micah, and Ashley didn’t know that she was going to be called. She was jumping up and down with her arm over her head so excited for her friend. And then her name was called and it was just great, she was so excited.”

For both Heckathorne and Harter, it meant a lot to share the moment with their families. Heckathorne enjoyed a big hug from his brother. Harter took her homecoming flowers to the gravestone of her deceased mother and said her mom would have been proud of her if she could have seen her wearing the homecoming crown.

Davis said she is glad for her two students and proud of the students who voted for them. She hopes this is a step to include her students even more in school activities.

“One, I think this a great stance for acceptance. This is a great model for inclusion for special (education) students. But now I think Bellefonte has some big shoes to fill. You can’t just pick and choose select activities you want my students to participate in. You have to be fully welcoming and encouraging. For them to be recognized and included by their peers who are non-disabled, that is a really big push. That is what we want,” said Davis.

The two enjoyed their homecoming week and went to the dance together. They danced to the music and had a great time with their peers there with them. They also were the biggest part of the homecoming parade that marched through the streets of Bellefonte.
But maybe the best highlight was the pep rally, where Heckathorne wore his band uniform and Harter wore a cheerleader outfit and got to lead the whole school, cheering, “Go, Red Raiders!”


Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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