Weeks after Murray High School's homecoming celebrations, seminary students were still talking about this year's royalty.
They hadn't forgotten the moment on Sept. 25 when the 1997 homecoming court was announced - when the gym erupted into deafening cheers and applause. Homecoming queen Shellie Eyre was greeted with a standing ovation. First attendant April Perschon was given a similar reception.It didn't matter to the students that Shellie was born with Down syndrome or that April has physical and mental disabilities resulting from a brain hemorrhage suffered when she was 10 years old.
Students were just happy that their friends had won.
R. Lane Johnson, a teacher at the seminary adjacent to Murray High, never dreamed that two students with disabilities could be elected as the high school's homecoming royalty. He attributes this to high seminary attendance at the school and the standards taught there.
All the girls nominated for homecoming queen at Murray High School, located in the Salt Lake City area, were active members of seminary - including April and Shellie.
After the announcement "all the homecoming candidates rallied around those two girls and lifted them into the limelight," recalled Brother Johnson, April's seminary teacher. Students, teachers, school administrators and parents wept openly, obviously moved.
The students voted for Shellie and April "out of pure love," said junior James Garrett.
Several seminary students explained that they like Shellie because she is always smiling. April is always telling a joke - trying to make other people laugh.
"We have gone to school with Shellie and April for a long time," said senior Mary Nelson. "We know them, and we love them. We all just thought it would be neat if they got to
participate in homecomingT."
Shellie and April take the attention in strides. "I was so excited," said April, noting that "everyone in the school knows me."
Shellie added that "everyone is happy for me."
Her mother, Ruth Eyre, said her daughter was excited and surprised to even be nominated for the position, which she won by a landslide.
"I know this couldn't have happened without seminary," Sister Eyre said. "[Seminary students] have a different understanding of how to feel compassion, how to feel love."
She said the students at the school accept her daughter as a normal girl. That is all Shellie wants - to be treated like everyone else.
"It has just been a good feeling for a lot of people," said Sister Eyre. "It is exciting to think that these students have been able to influence people's ideas concerning children with disabilities."