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Article of Interest - Inspiration

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Bridges4Kids LogoQueen for Life: Jones Named Homecoming Queen
by Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle, November 1, 2003
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The big moment in Cy-Fair High School's homecoming celebration wouldn't come for another two hours, but Shannon Jones had already won the most important contest.

That she was on the field at all, posing for photos with the rest of the homecoming court, was a testament to her own personality, her sister's love and changing public attitudes.

So when Shannon was crowned homecoming queen on the 50-yard line at Pridgeon Stadium on Friday night, beaming as the crowd roared in approval and her parents blinked back tears, she was momentarily speechless.

Then she turned to her mother. "I told you so."

Shannon, a 19-year-old senior, is an award-winning athlete and one of the Cy-Fair Bobcats' biggest fans. She also has Down syndrome.

The Bobcats were leading Langham Creek High School 21-0 at halftime, when Shannon -- escorted by her parents, Tom and Donna Jones, and her sister Lindsey -- swept onto the field with other members of the homecoming court.

She wasn't nervous -- she expected to win because so many friends had told her they voted for her. Donna Jones was nervous enough for both of them.

But win or lose, she knew the experience had been a gift.

About one of every 1,000 children is born with Down syndrome, which causes mental retardation and delayed development as a result of an extra chromosome 21.

Too often, Down syndrome also means missing out on some of life's sweetest moments. But Shannon didn't know that her possibilities were limited.

"Shannon watches the Disney Channel, where the stories are about prom queens and such, and she's naive enough to think that's possible for her," said Donna Jones, a teacher at Jersey Village High School. "The rest of us were like, `Well, ... ' "

Then Lindsey, who is also a senior at Cy-Fair, hatched a plan.

"Shannon always used to say, `I want to be prom queen,' " Lindsey said. "I figured this was as close as she might come."

So when nominations opened, Lindsey approached everyone she saw. "I'd say, `Vote for my sister. Vote for my sister.' "

Her parents recognized the love behind 17-year-old Lindsey's actions.

"It was such a selfless thing," said Tom Jones. "I'm so proud of her. Probably somewhere in the back of her mind, this is something she'd like to do."

Instead, she made it happen for Shannon.

Shannon was at a Special Olympics swim meet when the nominees were announced over the school's public address system Oct. 17: Heather Anderson, Shannon Jones, Lauren Myers, Krystle Paolini, Brooke Sneed, Leslie Tandy and Sarah Wulf.

"All my teachers heard it," Shannon reported later.

But at that evening's football game, unaware that she was on the homecoming court, Shannon turned wistful as she watched the Bobcat drill team.

"I wish I could walk across the field," she told her parents.

Tom and Donna Jones exchanged glances. "Maybe you can," they said.

Later, when she learned that she would be on the field with the rest of the homecoming court, Shannon knew who deserved the credit.

"I've got the best sister in the world," she crowed, jumping up and down.

And also, perhaps, a future in a changing world.

"Shannon is the kind of girl, most people don't even think of her that way," said David Eshelman, a physics teacher and student government adviser at Cy-Fair High, located on U.S. 290 in far northwest Harris County.

"They just think of her as Shannon," Eshelman said. "It's almost like they don't see her as different, other than the fact that obviously she is."

Lindsey was the catalyst, but Shannon wouldn't have been nominated if other students hadn't voted for her.

"She exhibits the character that a homecoming queen should exhibit," said junior Jeff Barnhill, who plays in the school band with Lindsey. "She's always caring, always asking, `How's your day?'

"I think we all thought it would be cool to have somebody with Down syndrome as homecoming queen."

Even some of her fellow nominees liked the idea.

"She's a neat girl, and I think it needed to happen," senior Lauren Myers said earlier in the week. "I hope she wins."

Cy-Fair High has 3,230 students, including 350 special education students, said Principal Bob Warner, who was unaware of any other special ed student ever being named to the school's homecoming court.

But around the country, it has begun to happen more frequently.

"We have a generation of young people that has changed their attitude about their peers with disabilities," said Chris Privet of the Arc of the United States, an advocacy group for people with mental retardation. "This may be the first generation that has gone through school with their peers with disabilities right in the classroom, learning alongside them."

People with disabilities have been guaranteed a free public education for more than 25 years, and more have moved into the work force, as well.

"You have a lot of people who don't remember a time when people with mental retardation were sent off to institutions," Privet said.

That was never an option for Tom and Donna Jones.

They moved to the Cy-Fair Independent School District for its special education programs, but Shannon also participates in regular school activities. She's active in her church youth ministry -- car washes, weekend retreats and all -- and the family has traveled across the country for Special Olympics competitions.

With Lindsey at her side, she plunged into senior year.

"Lindsey knows how kids in Shannon's category are left out," Donna Jones said. "Year after year, they're left out. Which is wrong, and we're on a crusade to change that."

So the past few weeks have been treasured.

"Even if it goes no farther, she still got to do all this stuff," Donna Jones said before Friday night's announcement, referring to the photo sessions, the pep rallies, the marathon shopping expeditions to find the perfect outfit.

And then there was Thursday's parade, representing the best of high school social life.

Shannon cruised on the back of a cherry-red Thunderbird convertible, driven by family friend Leonita Rhone, with Lindsey tucked into the front seat. Bobcat football star Victor Franklin, a nominee for homecoming king, was paired with Shannon, good-naturedly posing for her camera-wielding parents. The king will be announced at tonight's dance, and Victor volunteered to escort Shannon as she and her court are introduced.

Homecoming royalty rode in colorful convertibles Thursday, while all around them other students were loaded onto flatbed trailers and the beds of pickup trucks. The choir filled a fire truck; the football team rode behind an 18-wheeler.

Balancing a fur-trimmed gold cardboard crown atop her head, Shannon waved tirelessly to cheering students as the parade snaked past Lampkin Elementary School and Arnold Middle School.

"There's Shannon!" a group of girls called as the parade crawled to a stop back at Cy-Fair High.

"Hey, Shannon!"


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