MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – Four years ago, we introduced you to Neal Burch. At the time, he was a star player for the Monrovia Middle football team.
Now he’s a senior and that same winning attitude has won over everyone who cheers for the Sparkman Senators. “Neal has two levels, it`s either sleep, or ‘I love everybody!'” said Neal’s father Sonny Burch.
Neal isn’t just number one on the sideline, he’s the team’s number one cheerleader.
“He turns to the stands, he pumps up the game, he’s the biggest Sparkman fan there ever was,” said his mother Shannon.
Neal is the number one son to Sonny and Shannon and the number one big brother to two younger sisters.
“All the things that we’ve come through over the last 18 years, to know he’s accepted like this by his peers,” said an emotional Sonny. “It’s an honor!”
He was also contending for Homecoming’s number one prize, King. His parents could not have been prouder.
“A lot of these kids may have the opportunity in life for recognition and reward, but because of his disability, he may not,” explained Shannon.
As Neal walked down the field to join the homecoming court, his mother thought about his long journey to this point. A stroke limited his development at birth, but he`s been battling back ever since. “We were told he may never walk,” Sonny recalled. “He may never feed himself.”
Shannon says she also thinks about where he may journey next. “He’s almost 19-years-old. He thinks he’s going to UGA, he plans to get married and have a family. He doesn’t see himself any different than any average teenage boy.”
Neal’s classmates may treat him like everyone else, but the way he is loved, nobody else comes close. The cheers when his name was called were nothing compared to when he was announced King of the Court.
“We’re supposed to address him as ‘His Majesty,'” his father joked.
Of course, what kind of King is without his queen? Her name is Morgan Shikoh. She is also a student with special needs. They’ve shared classes together since third grade.
“It’s just a great night.” Shannon fought back tears as she watched her son embrace friends and teachers, knowing that her son isn’t just number one on the sideline, he’s the number one of Sparkman. “He’ll never forget this, he’ll never forget it.”
Tonight was the first time in Sparkman history that both the Homecoming King and Queen were students with special needs. Their families say it just goes to show how special their community really is.