Colin Peirce's parents didn't think it was possible that their son could be elected Nevada Union High School's homecoming king.
Denis and Nancy Peirce were just thankful when their son, a 17-year-old with Down syndrome, was named one of the three finalists.
To see him riding in a convertible and waving in a parade-like procession at the Sept. 23 homecoming game, in front of the whole school and thousands more on hand, was something the couple never dreamed they would see.
"What the student body did for Colin speaks volumes for what our school stands for," said Jennifer Victor, a special needs aide who has worked with Colin for four years. "(The special needs staff) didn't have anything to do with that."
Denis Peirce, for one, begs to differ.
"The special needs teachers and aides have been trying for years and years to get those kids out into the mainstream," he said. "This is a big success in that respect."
The Peirce family attributes Colin's popularity to two things: His magnetic personality and the work of the special needs staff, aides and helpers who have been by their son's side since he entered kindergarten.
Two weeks after he was born, Colin was enrolled in an infant stimulation program for kids with challenges, administered through the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.
When he was still an infant, his mother brought him to Pioneer Park, where she saw another group of children holding a fifth birthday party.
Nancy Peirce remembers thinking Colin would never be invited to regular kids' birthday parties. Nor would other boys want to come to his parties, she thought. She relayed her concern to fellow Penn Valley resident and family friend Patti Hastert.
One of the goals of the special needs department at Nevada Union has been to integrate their students' into the regular student body, rather than lock them away in some remote corner of the campus, said Victor.
"It is not just for the special needs kids, what it does is it gives our typical kids the opportunity to be around these special needs kids so it is not a mystery," said Nancy Peirce.
Colin has made remarkable progress at Nevada Union, his parents said. He rides the regular bus to school with the other students. Where once he needed an aide or a student peer tutor to accompany him to lunch or when he goes to agriculture class, Colin now goes on his own.
"There is always someone that will make sure they are OK or they are going where they need to go," said Victor. "That's huge. They need that more than they need someone to teach them algebra."
One of those students is Sydnie Steinbach, a junior cheerleader and peer tutor. Along with her friend, senior Dani Ruckman, the cheerleaders campaigned to elect Colin as the school's homecoming king.
"We thought he would love it because he loves people and loves the attention," said Ruckman.
When Steinbach told her friends and classmates to vote for Colin, no one said they would not vote for someone because they had special needs. As incidents of bullying among teenagers are reportedly on the rise nationwide, Steinbach said, everyone at Nevada Union rallied in support of Colin.
"All around, he is just a really good kid," Steinbach said. "He's fine with everybody. Nobody picks on him. He is the most popular kid in school."
Denis Peirce said another example of the caliber of students at Nevada Union is their homecoming queen, Mikala Strum, who didn't seem to mind being paired with a Down syndrome king.
"Instead, she went with it like he was the captain of the football team," Denis Peirce said. "She was right there, beaming and smiling.
She handled it with grace and class and she made it even better with her attitude."
As the king and queen were adorned with their ceremonial garb and paraded in a vintage car around the football field at halftime of the homecoming game, Nancy Peirce said her family friend, Hastert, leaned over and said, "This is a lot bigger than a birthday party."
"When you have a special needs child, you never dream they will be accepted by the population at large," said Nancy Peirce.
"I never dreamed this child would have the acceptance that he has had."
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.