English teacher Amy Finney erupted with applause when high school senior James Verpaele was crowned homecoming king last month.
Moments later, Finney was in tears as she watched Verpaele, 17, present her developmentally disabled 19-year-old son, Parks, with the crown and sash.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium,” Finney told TODAY Parents.
Parks, a student at Merritt Island High School in Florida, was born with Periventricular Leukomalacia, or PVL, his mother said. PVL is a birth injury caused by lack of oxygen or blood flow to the brain. The condition affects Parks’ cognitive abilities and speech, but it hasn’t stopped him from managing the softball and track and field teams.
“Parks comes to all the games and most practices and cheers us on. He’s a supporter of all the athletics,” Verpaele, a varsity football player, TODAY. “We call him the Mayor because he knows everyone. He’ll stop and ask, ‘Do you need anything?’ ‘How are you doing?’
Verpaele said that all six of the nominees felt that Parks, who was part of the homecoming court, deserved the top honor.
“We all came together and decided that no matter who wins, Parks should get it because he’s a friend to all of us,” Verpaele explained. “We all love him.”
Parks was initially confused when he saw Verpaele walking towards him.
“He thought I was coming to give him a high-five or a fist bump,” Verpaele recalled. “And then I was like, ‘No, Parks, you’re coming with me,’” and I brought him onto the field.”
That’s when Parks’ face started to light up, Verpaele said.
“I’m watching all of this unfold and the tears just start falling,” Finney said. “My whole family we crying. Parks’ smile was huge and the crowd was chanting his name.”
Parks celebrated that night with a milkshake at Steak n Shake. His crown and sash are now prominently displayed his bedroom. He told TODAY it makes him “happy.”
Finney praised the student body at Merritt Island High School for embracing her child.
“They’ve accepted him from the beginning,” she said. “It’s a testament to the culture at our school, but also shows how kind teenagers can be.”