A Night to Remember


Joel Sweeney is no stranger to the spotlight. A junior at Tomah high school, Sweeney is the resident sports star in
football, basketball and currently track and field. But as talented as he is athletically, that’s not what stands out
most about this young man.

“He’s a great athlete all around but he’s also a great kid. Very humble, very soft spoken. Doesn’t say a whole lot,
but leads with his actions,” says boys track coach Eric Eswein. Football coach Brad Plueger seconds that, “guys just
look at him and how he carry’s his shoulders, he just makes everyone around him better.” Says P.E. teacher Tonya
Gnewikow, “he’s very humble in everything he does.”

He’s so humble in fact that he is a little uncomfortable with the attention we’re about to give him. “I don’t
really like the spotlight.”

More on Joel later though. First, on the other side of the track is a girl that is special in her own
way. 17-year-old Macey Ambort also attends Tomah high school but her story is very different from Joel’s. “Macey is
autistic. She has developmental delays across the board. She is probably at a pre-school level with cognition and
mostly speech.”

Macey doesn’t have many words, but all you need to do is listen to her little giggle to discover she has a bit of a
crush on a boy by the name of Joel Sweeney.

A few months back, Macey’s mom Patty found herself thinking about prom and whether that experience would ever be a
reality for her little girl. “I had a dream. I woke up the next morning and all I remembered was she was going to the
prom with Joel. Well I had no idea how that was ever going to happen.”

As fate would have it, that very next day Patty ran into Joel’s Mom Reenie. “She told me she had this dream and I
ran it by him.”

Taking a special ed kid to the prom certainly wouldn’t be the “cool” thing to do, but after some thought Joel
realized, “I think I felt it was the right thing to do.”

So on April 25th, with her hair and make-up done special and a beautiful dress to boot, Macey found herself arm in
arm with the boy that makes her blush.

“There’s not a lot of kids that would do something like this in a high school setting. He’s doing it out of the
goodness of his heart, says Eswien.”

Gnewikow adds, “students do look up to him as a role model and hopefully more will follow his lead.”

“She is so special. I hope that people see that people with disabilities are still people,” says Joel’s mom
Reenie. “People should accept you as a person.”

“I really hope that people follow in his example and find out that these kids aren’t so scary.”

“Give her a chance to experience something that she may not be able to in high school and that she remembers it for
the rest of her life.”

On this night, under the glow of the neon lights, this girl who’se always been a little different became the belle
of the ball. And the humble sports star, became a role model for all of us.