Whitmer High School senior Grace Haskin, left, promoted a campaign to elect her best friend, Bethany Wissler, homecoming queen last Friday. Miss Wissler's mother bought her the placard.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
It's a scene being played out at high schools across Northwest Ohio.
As the cool autumn air wafts across the 50-yard line at half-time, anxious young people dressed in regalia wait for the big announcement.
PHOTO GALLERY: Student with disability named Homecoming Queen
When 19-year-old Bethany Wissler's name was called on Friday night at Whitmer High School, the excitement was palpable for this young woman who has been breaking down barriers all her life.
Miss Wissler has Down syndrome and this is the first time in the school's history that a student with the condition has been crowned homecoming queen, said Wendy Farran, spokesman for the school district.
“She is well loved. She beat out five other girls and I think it speaks to the community spirit at the school,” Ms. Farran said.
For Miss Wissler it was a wonderful night.
“It's good to be queen. I was so excited,” she said.
As a popular and well-liked senior at Whitmer, Miss Wissler felt the support of her classmates leading up to the homecoming weekend. Her best friend Grace Haskins conducted an informal poll of students that led her to believe that her friend had a shot at winning.
“I knew it was between her and one other person, so when they announced the runner-up and it was not Bethany, I knew it was good news for her. I was so happy for her. It was so magical for me to see her get crowned,” she said.
Miss Wissler's mother agrees that the support her daughter has received from the community throughout her career in the Washington Local Schools has been phenomenal.
Students with disabilities are taught alongside students without those disabilities and Miss Wissler has always been encouraged by her teachers, her friends and her parents, Larry and Kathy Wissler, to pursue her dreams.
“She would come home from school and say people were voting for her. I even went into Arby's the week before and this girl came up to me and said ‘Aren't you Bethany's mom?’ and I said ‘yeah’ and she said ‘Oh my god, Bethany is so adorable, I'm voting for her’' ” Mrs. Wissler said.
Miss Wissler's mother has always believed in keeping her daughter active, so she put her in acting classes at an early age and encouraged her to get active in the youth group at CedarCreek Church.
Miss Wissler has also been involved in the school district's cheerleading program since she was in the second grade.
Kelly Steele, varsity cheerleading adviser at Whitmer, has been coaching the team for more than 29 years and she has never seen another student with Down syndrome on the varsity squad.
“She has been an inspiration to the school. She does extremely well in cheering and she has tons of school spirit,” she said.
Miss Wissler is a member of the squad that cheers at home football games. This squad does not travel with the football team or go to competitions and the girls practice once a month.
“She can do everything that these girls can do. Constantly jumping and laughing and loving life,” said Ms. Steele.
Miss Wissler and her mother see her as a role model for other students with disabilities. Kathy Wissler said children with Down syndrome are just like other kids, only a little slower than the average child. The key, she said, is for parents to be advocates for their children with disabilities and to make sure that their children with Down syndrome are in an environment where they can learn from others because they like to mimic behavior.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.