FREEBURG, IL. (KTVI) – In a week where word of a homecoming prank against a mentally challenged Pacific, Missouri girl has been in the headlines, a school in Freeburg, Illinois is standing up to say not all schools and not all teenagers are so vicious. Their story, that of Shelby Wegrzyn won’t turn your stomach, it will warm your heart.
Wegrzyn is a senior at Freeburg Community High School. She has Down’s syndrome, but her disability hasn’t made her a target. To kids here, she’s more of a shining light.
“She tries really hard and she inspires us,” Katlyn Talbot, a friend and fellow cheerleader said Thursday night. “She keeps us moving.”
Another cheerleader, Mackenzie Becherer, agrees. “She’s our rock in practice. To know that if she can do it we can all keep going and not give up.”
The cheerleaders were among those leading the way for Shelby to be on the homecoming court. They approached the principal with their request.
“They said we want Shelby to be on court,” Ben Howes recalled. “We’re very serious about this.”
From there, Shelby’s parents were called. This was no prank, and school officials wanted to make sure her mom and dad were on board.
Her father, Wally Wegrzyn, was grateful.
“I just thought it was great that the student body was including her,” he said.
To her mom, this gesture by a group of teenagers was a chance for her daughter to live every little girl’s dream.
” Shelby, like anyone else, has always wanted a crown,” Laura Wegrzyn said with a smile.
The night of Homecoming, Shelby entered the school to gym with an escort on her arm, and cheers from the stands. About 600 kids attend school here, and a solid 500 were there that night. Each had cast a vote for homecoming queen as they entered. Shelby won by a landslide.
Home video shows the young girl with Down’s being seated on the queen’s throne to a din of cheers coming from the stands.
“I was crying, my daughter, and I think every other mom that was here,” Laura Wegrzyn said. “Surreal I guess would be the word for it,” she said.
“Her smile just lit up everywhere and every one,” Talbot said.
In light of what happened in Pacific, where a girl not too different from Shelby was selected to the homecoming court as a joke, with kids planning to throw eggs at her, the moment at Freeburg High elicits pride.
“The teachers and parents get a lot of credit for this,” Howes said, “because they teach them more than adding and subtracting, they teach them right and wrong.”
“I thought it was fantastic,” Shelby’s dad told us. “It spoke volumes for the way they bring the kids up around here.”
His wife then chimed in, “It says a lot for the kids. It says a lot for the kids parents. That the kids are accepting that they look past themselves.”
They looked to a young girl for whom life can be a struggle, and they made her queen for a day.
“At this point I would say it was probably the best night of her life,” her mom said, looking with a smile at Shelby, still wearing her crown.