NEW PORT RICHEY — Terrell Tolliver is known for his high-fives, his ever-present smile, his generous hugs. The affable kid with Down syndrome is the "hydration engineer" for the Mitchell High football team and eats lunch with many of the players. He's a multisport Special Olympian who manages to get his needs seen to, even though he is mostly non-verbal.
Turns out, he's also quite the dancer.
"He does a mean robot — and a moonwalk," said instructional assistant Michele Chaltry, one of the junior class sponsors who helped organize this year's prom.
Saturday, Terrell, 19, brought down the house when he was crowned Mitchell High prom king. He beat out four other candidates with 78 percent of the vote.
"It was so cool to watch — to see him win," said senior Chandler Reed, 17, who described Terrell as "one of the sweetest kids" at school. "The football team was giving him bear hugs and lifting him up, and he was high-fiving everyone."
"I've never seen the kids scream so much for any prom king or queen," added Chaltry. "I just cried."
Terrell was dressed to the nines at the Moroccan-themed event at Busch Gardens, wearing a black tuxedo, crisp white shirt, black bow tie and red rose bud boutonniere.
A groundswell of student support landed his name on the ballot for prom king. Students used their iPhones and other electronic devices to cast their ballots through the school's online system. The tally was announced prom night.
"When they called his name, everybody yelled and screamed for him," said ESE (exceptional student education) instructional assistant Andrea Boyce-Heavilin, who accompanied Terrell to the prom as his chaperone. "He was very surprised. When he heard his name, he got this big old grin on his face and he said 'Me?' "
Boyce-Heavilin said she watched, proudly snapping photographs on her cell phone to instantly send to his family. The sea of Mitchell students parted so Terrell could make his way down the red carpet to receive his crown, banner and scepter, along with prom queen Sarah Page.
Receiving those photos was Terrell's older brother Addias Tolliver, 21, who in 2008 was crowned prom king at Ridgewood High. He made sure to forward those photographs to their parents, Sherry Tolliver and Terry Smith of New Port Richey.
"It was awesome," Addias said. "I saw those pictures and just kept sending them to everyone in the family."
Smith was so thrilled he decided to wait up for his son.
"I tried to sleep, but I couldn't," Smith said. "We were so excited for him. I had to work the next day, but I was up till 2 a.m."
Mitchell has been a good fit for Terrell, said his dad, who accompanies him to all the home football games. "I never have to worry about him. I know he's in good hands."
More than that: He's embraced.
"He's always sneaking out of the adaptive P.E. class to work out with the kids in regular P.E. class. They just accept him," said adaptive physical education teacher Kimberly Hoyt. "We'll be walking the campus and someone's always screaming, 'Terrell!' "
Still, Hoyt said, she was tickled about Terrell's latest crowning achievement.
"It was something I never really thought I'd see in my lifetime: an ESE student as prom king or queen at Mitchell," Hoyt said.
"I really have to give kudos to the regular students here. I think it's great that people aren't afraid or uncomfortable with our ESE kids and that we have such diversity here."