The competition for homecoming queen may bring to mind visions of cutthroat acts in the name of nabbing the coveted title of high-school royalty. But the ladies of the homecoming court at Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield, South Carolina, turned the special moment into one of compassion and unity.
Strom Thurmond senior Nataleigh Deal, 19, has epilepsy and Down syndrome. Before the homecoming game, Deal started to feel sick. It was extra troubling because as a member of the homecoming court, Deal was expected on the field shortly for the ceremony to name the queen.
“As soon as we got down to her seat, she started saying, ‘I just don’t feel well,'” Carliegh Deal, Nataleigh’s sister and escort for the ceremony, told NBC News 12. “We got her to sit down and she just fell out and went into a seizure.”
Deal’s family said overstimulation can trigger seizures for Nataleigh. Fortunately, she quickly recovered and said she wanted to be on the field during the halftime crowning ceremony. She didn’t feel steady enough to walk out in the high heels she’d worn with her outfit, though, so she took them off and hoped no one would notice.
But the other 11 homecoming queen candidates did take notice. A staff member at the high school, Crystal Hadden, shared the court’s amazing response on Facebook.
“She (Deal) was well enough to participate in the homecoming ceremony but was unable to wear her heels because she wasn’t yet steady on her feet,” Hadden posted. “When the court learned this, without a second thought, they kicked off their shoes and agreed to walk barefoot as well.”
“I’m honored to know these beautiful young ladies,” Hadden said in the post. “You are all queens. Pride. Class. Courage. Will to win.”
The Deal family was overwhelmed by the young women’s gesture of solidarity.
“When we got out there, they all lined up before Nataleigh came out to line up with them,” Carleigh said. “When I came out there, literally not a single one of them had their shoes on. Not even the homecoming-elect from the year before who was crowning.”
The highlight of the evening? Nataleigh was crowned homecoming queen!
“I am proud of myself for being queen of Strom Thurmond High,” she said. “I love my friends more than anything. They’re proud of me. Go Rebels.”
Deal’s mom, Dawn Ford, said she believed her daughter had support from her school, but the evening filled her heart with appreciation and joy.
“I knew Nataleigh was loved and embraced at Strom Thurmond High School,” Ford told News 12. “but I had no idea the magnitude of it until Friday night.”
Wow! Congrats to Nataleigh, and kudos to all of the young women on the homecoming court for standing in solidarity with your classmate!