Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2000

Teen with Down syndrome crowned king

October 7, 2000


— On Andrew's big night, he sat on stage in his high school gym and waited as the reigning homecoming royalty silently read a scroll bearing the names of their successors.

The couple weaved tantalizingly among 10 would-be monarchs and finally grabbed Andrew and the next queen.

Andrew Dooyema, 17-year-old senior, is no star quarterback and his fashion choices are more J.C. Penney than GQ. To his 450 classmates at Luverne High, none of that mattered. Neither did his Down syndrome.

"I don't think it's ever been that loud in that gym before," said Tyler Amborn, a classmate and longtime friend, describing the reaction when Andrew's victory was proclaimed.

"I tried to keep it in around all my friends. But when he got up there with the crown, I just couldn't hold it in anymore," Amborn said. "A few tears had to roll down."

Each year, seniors select five boys and five girls as candidates for king and queen of the school in rural southwest Minnesota. The entire student body then chooses the winners by secret ballot.

"I wasn't expecting it," said Andrew, his blue eyes sparkling. "I thought I'd be on the bottom."

When he made the initial cut, before the coronation ceremony, his mother was speechless. Pam Dooyema's husband, Doug, a teacher in the school district, had called her from work and asked if she was sitting down.

"I thought, 'He's lost his job,"' she said.

Her mood changed swiftly when Doug shared the news.

"I didn't even think of it as a possibility," she said, cradling Jedidiah, the youngest of Andrew's eight brothers and sisters, in her arms. "I just cried. I couldn't even talk."

The night Andrew was crowned, Sept. 26, Hannah Dietrich was chosen as homecoming queen.

"I saw it was Andrew, and I was ready to go give him a big hug," she said. "So many times kids with disabilities don't get attention like that. It's attention they deserve as much as anybody else."

Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that causes varying degrees of mental retardation. It often includes such physical traits as a flattened bridge of the nose and reduced muscle tone.

In the town of 4,500, county seat of a grain-growing region near the South Dakota and Iowa state lines, people were gratified by Andrew's victory, but not necessarily surprised. It speaks well of Luverne that its teens didn't see Down syndrome as a bar to Andrew's coronation, said Bill Hiney, parts manager at a car dealership.

"I have a handicapped son, and when I heard it, it was really special," Hiney said. "It reflects on the community."

Now that he is king, Andrew has gently let friends and family know they may call him "King Andrew" and provide shoe-tying services.

"We can still tolerate him," his mother quipped.

The honor has been great, she added, but Andrew is ready for some normalcy again. "He's like, 'Let's quit talking about this."'

For the most part, Andrew's brush with aristocracy hasn't changed him.

He sneaks in the occasional episode of "Passions," despite his mother's admonitions, and is up to date with the soap opera's characters.

"Ethan's calling off the wedding," he gravely told his former supervisor, Steve Barjenbruch, during a visit to the grocery store where he worked the past two summers.

Presidential politics and the Minnesota Vikings' strong start also keep him occupied. And he reflects on the romantic prospects that his new status may offer.

"I'm going to get a lot of girlfriends since it's going to be on the news," he said.

Andrew has been in mainstream classes since kindergarten, though he takes both regular and special education courses.

Consumer science, history and geography have been among his high school subjects. He has not firmed up post-graduation plans, though they may include more schooling or a job in the area, his father said.


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