Three Tennessee high school seniors nominated for homecoming king banded together to award the title instead to a beloved student with a genetic condition.
In a touching and heartfelt ceremony at Unionville Community High School's homecoming basketball game last Friday, king nominees Jesse Cooper, Drew Gibbs, and Zeke Grissom unanimously decided to give the honor to junior Scotty Maloney, regardless of who won.
"I've been blessed with so many things," Cooper, who won the popular vote, told ABC News' Nashville affiliate WKRN-TV
. "I just wanted Scotty to experience something great in his high school days."
Maloney has Williams Syndrome, a neurological disorder that inhibits learning and speech.
When his name was called as homecoming king, the gymnasium erupted with a standing ovation that lasted for more than 30 seconds, WKRN-TV said.
"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 ABCNews.com. "It was very, very emotional."
Grissom said he and his fellow nominees got choked up.
"It was just a ton of emotion from everybody," Grissom told WKRN-TV. "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's teacher said he is a beloved figure in his school and in the community.
"Scotty is fabulous. He is a superstar. He knows everybody. There's not one person that Scotty does not know," Gassaway told ABCNews.com. "To know him and meet him is to love him."
The 500-student school in Unionville is "one of the best schools in the world" for special-needs students, Gassaway said. Lots of students, including Cooper, often volunteer to help the special-needs gym classes and other activities. Gassaway said the boys' gesture toward Maloney Friday 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."
Maloney was awarded the king's medal, which he wore to school Tuesday. Next year Maloney will pass it on to the next homecoming king.
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