Sep. 25, 2013 at 5:05 PM ET
Courtney Tharp’s fellow high school students aren’t at all surprised that she was named homecoming queen this week. They love her smile, her enthusiasm and her upbeat attitude about everything. Who cares if she struggles with fine motor skills or has some speech difficulties?
Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 9 months old, Courtney, now 17, found out on Monday night that her fellow seniors wanted her to be their queen. As applause erupted and homecoming court members gave Courtney high-fives, her stunned parents began to cry.
“I lost it!” Courtney’s mother, Amy Tharp of Waverly, Iowa, told TODAY.com. “I was prepared, though. I had the Kleenexes.”
Courtney attends Waverly-Shell Rock Senior High School in Iowa and has known many of her classmates for years. One longtime friend, Kaleb Staack, 17, became the school’s homecoming king on Monday night.
“I was happy — anybody would be — but I was more focused on Courtney,” Kaleb told TODAY.com. “It was such a great feeling when she won. ... She comes to school every day with a big smile on her face. She is happy 110 percent of the time. She loves life, and she makes the best out of everything. She’s a big inspiration to everybody.”
Amy Tharp, 43, confessed that she and her husband John Tharp, 52, had a moment of nervousness when they found out that their only child had been nominated to homecoming court. But a phone call from high school associate principal Jeremy Langner reassured them.
“Jeremy called me and said, 'This is really a genuine thing. They’re not being mean — this isn’t a prank or anything. They really and truly adore your daughter.'"
Tharp said Courtney has benefited from being mainstreamed with more than 700 students at a large public high school.
“Kids with special needs are not segregated like they used to be,” she said. “The kids just know that this is Courtney and this is how she is, and they accept it.”
Waverly-Shell Rock Senior High’s Go-Hawks will play Oelwein High School’s Huskies in their homecoming game on Friday night. Courtney and Kaleb will be present as high school royalty.
“I feel great about it,” said associate principal Langner. “The kids at this school are all different in their own unique ways, but they come together and help each other.”