NAVARRE – Will Shoebrook wasn’t going to be one of those kids who just stands on the wall at the school dance. Not a chance.
When he showed up at Navarre High School’s homecoming on Saturday night, he danced.
“I hope they play Selena Gomez,” said Will, a 15-year-old freshman at Navarre, before the dance. “And Bruno Mars … OK, yes, I like him too. It will be super fun. I’m going to dance a lot.”
Will, who is autistic, is enrolled in Navarre’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program. Although it’s not a term used by the medical community anymore, he would previously have been described as a “high functioning” autistic.
A big part of his journey has been overcoming difficulties with social interactions and communication skills. That’s why what happened recently was such a big deal.
Earlier this month, he was asked to attend homecoming … and after a little prodding, he accepted. The proposal was planned ahead of time by fellow Navarre freshman Nichele Bush, who asked him to be her date, an invitation that came replete with candy and a sign.
“Seeing the look on his face was so great,” Bush said. “He’s very sweet, very nice. He's always so positive and so happy, and I think that's what I appreciate the most.”
Shoebrook, happy to get some chocolate, didn’t realize at first what was happening, but when he did the moment was pretty special.
“Look at my sign again,” Bush said, smiling. “I’m asking you to homecoming. Will you go with me?”
Shoebrook accepted, of course. Watching the smile spread across his face as he realized he was going to homecoming was something to behold. Thanks to a donation, Bush and Will also had a limo to take them to the dance.
Thursday night, Will’s father – also named William – kept making the mistake of calling it “prom” instead of “homecoming” … which didn’t go unchecked by his son.
“It’s homecoming, Dad. Not prom.”
“Dad. Not prom. Homecoming.
“I’ll get it right this time,” Will’s father said, chuckling. “Will is a good kid … I know he really wanted to go to homecoming. My wife knew what was going on beforehand, so it was pretty special. We want him to try and fit in as much as possible, so this has been a great surprise.”
Will’s homecoming activities weren't limited to just the dance – he also played in the percussion section of the band on Friday night during the Raiders’ game against Chiles.
More than anything else, though, he loves maps. Drive him somewhere once and that trip’s directions are embedded in his memory. Ask him how to get to Greenville, South Carolina, Orlando or Atlanta … then see what happens. He’s basically a human version of MapQuest.
“(Will) is brilliant, very loving and also very sweet,” said his mother, Donna. “He loves to cook, play drums and he is my very own navigator. He is definitely high functioning (autistic).”
For Bush, it was an opportunity to make a connection with a fellow student – one who is forced to battle with things on a daily basis that most of us will never understand.
With people like Bush on his side, it’s not hard to understand how Will continues how to make progress.
“(Nichele) had told me about what she wanted to do beforehand," said Nichele's mom, Stephanie Bush. "She just said 'Mom, he makes me super happy and warms my heart every day' and told me what a great kid William is ... she even surprised me a little bit. I think I've watched that video a million time. Just super excited, super happy."