TROY — The only thing that shone brighter than the crown atop his head was the smile that stretched across his face.
“Happy!” Troy High School senior Derrec Sandifer said when describing how he felt about being named the school’s prom king last week during the school dance at the Dayton Art Institute. “King! Friends! Fun! King!”
Sandifer was disagnosed with autism spectrem disorder at a young age and is largely non-verbal. None of that stopped his classmates from voting him prom king, however. Fellow senior Niki Krishnan was voted prom queen.
“That was a sweet moment,” said Troy senior Will Brumfield, one of Sandifer’s best friends. “Derrec loves being in the spotlight. It was awesome to see him so happy. This was like the perfect ending for him. To see him go out like that was really, really cool.”
It’s been a memorable senior year for Sandifer, who not only was voted prom king, but also held a roster spot on Troy’s playoff football team last fall. A few weeks before the prom, Troy senior Rachel Martin officially invited Sandifer to be her prom date through an elaborate “promposal” at the school.
“I had heard Derrec wanted to go with me, but I had already been thinking about inviting him instead of him asking me,” Martin said. “So I texted (Troy seniors) Caroline (Pratt) and Holland (Lively) and asked them how I should ask him. I knew he really liked barbecue wings and he was on the football team.”
So with Sandifer’s mother Amber Robinson at the school taping the event, Martin presented Sandifer with a dish of wings and the note, “Will you get ‘saucy’ with me at prom?” and a football that read, “Will you ‘tackle’ prom with me?”
“He was kind of shy at first, but his mom told me that when he got home, he was so excited,” Martin said.
That Sandifer would not only be asked to go to prom, but would be voted prom king, came as no surprise to Troy High School principal Katy Weaver, who said he has taught the entire school the importance of acceptance and understanding in his four years there.
“He has had such an impact on our kids,” Weaver said. “It’s become this whole big thing where they really feel like he is a big part of their lives. He has taught them a lot about learning from other people and accepting people who might not be exactly the same as them. Everyone loves to be around Derrec. It’s been a really neat thing to see.”
Once Sandifer had been named to the prom court, Brumfield — who also was on the court with him — said there was no doubt who was going to ultimately get the crown, one way or another.
“Everyone on court had already agreed beforehand that if anyone else won, they were going to give Derrec the crown,” Brumfield said. “It didn’t come to that, but if it had, he was getting the crown. He deserved it.”
Once the ballots had been counted and Sandifer had been officially named king, Martin said the entire ballroom was happy for him.
“He had been talking about it all night,” she said. “We were all rooting for him. We wanted him to get the king. When he was named the king, I was yelling, ‘That’s my date!’ It was amazing. It was definitely the my best prom. We’ve all learned so much from Derrec. We’ve all been going to school with him since the sixth grade and it’s been really eye-opening. He helps us to be a better class. We’ve learned a lot from Derrec.”
Once the crown had been placed on his head, it was time for Sandifer’s dance with his queen. Before that, however, his friends had one final piece of advice for him.
“My friends told me, ‘King … no crying,’” Sandifer said.
They didn’t have to worry about that … there was no way tears were going to penetrate his radiant smile.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong
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