ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — AnnCatherine Heigl is a high school freshman, sings in her school choir, is a cheerleader and plays on the tennis team. She studies Spanish, is a good student and popular among her peers.
The 14-year-old who has Down syndrome is also a member of the Zionsville High School homecoming court.
AnnCatherine said she is happy about being named a princess. She was selected by her classmates to represent the freshman class. The homecoming queen, chosen from five seniors, was to be crowned at halftime of Friday's football game against Fishers High School.
Lillie Heigl, a senior, and siblings Mari Heigl, 12, and Tim Heigl, 20, will escort their sister onto the field.
"She understands completely that this is a huge honor," her mom, Laura Heigl, told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/18BkRxE ). "What she doesn't understand is the significance of a person with a disability to be chosen. She knows she has Down syndrome and doesn't particularly like it."
Embracing societal differences signals a shift in attitudes, said Dr. Frank Farley, a Temple University professor who studies heroism, generosity and diversity issues.
"Three cheers for them doing this, but I don't think we should be surprised, because there's a techtonic shift going on," said Farley. "We are much more open and accepting and more generous than in the past."
Last week at Noblesville High School, senior Lauren Woodrum, who is legally blind, was voted homecoming queen.
"What these students did is very much in tune with where the 21st century is going: valuing diversity, valuing difference," Farley said. "In a sense, they're showing a little bit of everyday heroism, some empathy, some understanding. The more we relate to people who are different than us, the happier we are going to be."
Junior Maria Schultz, 16, is AnnCatherine's peer for Best Buddies, a program that creates friendships to help students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"She likes to do teenage-girl things. We make cookies together, sing Taylor Swift songs, go get dinner, and get our nails done," Schultz said. "Every time I see her in the hallway, her smiling face brightens my day. She's well-liked because of her bubbly personality, and she's fun to be around."
Lillie Heigl said her sister will be a good princess.
"She is beautiful on the inside because she is loving and kind. She likes crowns and dresses, but she's a good example of fine character and a wonderful representative of the freshman class."
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com