"Easy choice:" Classmates, even other candidates hail selection of Carter Co. high student with multiple disabilities as football homecoming queen

The Independent, Ashland, Sept. 20, 2016

A homecoming with meaning
Senior with disabilities queen at East Carter; mother says it adds ‘a little extra sparkle’

GRAYSON - Morgan Jones, a senior at East Carter High School with multiple disabilities, stood on the football field Friday night as she nervously awaited the announcement of the 2016 homecoming queen. The anticipation was soon over as the names were read — she had won!

Excitement filled the stands and many became emotional as Jones shot her fist full of flowers in the air. Jones said she was shocked by the win and it was obvious the enthusiasm had not left her at school on Monday.

“I feel much confident and excited,” said the 17-year-old.

Morgan did not go into the homecoming journey alone. Brianna Gee, her best friend since first grade, was also chosen to be on homecoming court by the student body. Gee’s family helped jumpstart the Special Olympics in Carter County last year where Jones participates in bowling, track and cheerleading. Jones’ father, Chad Jones, is also the coach of the Special Olympics Bowling team.

Gee said she did not want herself to win the queen title, but instead for Jones to wear the crown.

She said it meant a great deal to her to be able to witness Jones being on the court and knew it would be an opportunity for the rest of the school to see how wonderful of a person she is. Gee’s eyes filled with tears as she described the moment Jones was crowned on Friday.

“Seeing her out there being announced and hearing her biography and seeing what the world could see that I saw my whole childhood was just real amazing for me and I wanted to create more memories with her. I love Morgan and I think the whole school does too and now she really is the queen,” she said.

Erika Fraley was also on homecoming court and said it was a common agreement among the girls that Jones was the most deserving of winning queen.

“We felt like it meant more to Morgan and it would make her happier than it ever could any of us,” said Fraley.

East Carter Vice Principal Veronica Braun described Jones’ personality as larger than life. She said she never meets a stranger and will talk to anyone she comes across; making it easy to say that she knows everyone in the school.

Braun said Friday night made her proud to be a part of a school that is so supportive and accepting of students like Jones.

“It’s just like she’s any other kid. They just love her and protect her,” said Braun, who also helps coach Special Olympics cheerleading.

Cam Sparks, a senior at ECHS, said voting for Jones was an obvious choice among all his classmates. He also described her as an outgoing person that is constantly happy and said she was the sweetest person he knows.

Sparks said Jones’ win is a vouch for how she treats others.

‘Easy’ choice

“It was easy for us all to vote for her. I’m glad she won, I was pulling for her and I think everyone was,” he said.

Jones rarely took her crown off after receiving it Friday night. She even wore it to get her nails done on Saturday to prepare for the dance later that evening. She also now sports a crown necklace that her mother, April Keelin, gave her. Keelin said the necklace gives her a way to always wear her crown.

On Friday Chad escorted Morgan onto the field. Keelin explained the win was unexpected and said it made her cry when her daughter was pronounced the queen.

Keelin said Morgan has always been treated nicely by her classmates all throughout her education starting in pre-school. Keelin even considered switching school when Morgan was going into sixth grade but decided against it since she did not think other schools would be that accepting.

Even though Morgan is always joyful, Keelin said that since Friday she has not stopped smiling.

“She’s been herself but with a little extra sparkle,” her mother said.

Proud teacher

Jeff Whitson, a special education teacher at ECHS, had Jones in class for three years.

He said she can put anyone in a good mood and bragged on her driven work ethic. In his class she never let her disabilities get in the way of her becoming successful — something that is rewarding for Whitson to witness. Since Jones does know everyone, he said it will be hard whenever she gradates in the spring.

“It’s going to be really really really strange and a sad day when she’s not here at the beginning of next year,” he said. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

Jones, who also has an affinity for the Statue of Liberty, now aspires to one day be a global ambassador for the Special Olympics.

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