DARBY – When David Bishop first sent his son off to kindergarten in Darby, he worried that maybe his boy wouldn’t be accepted by his peers.

Travis Bishop was born with Down syndrome. He was different from the rest. His parents wondered what that might mean for their son attending school in this small town.

Over the past 18 years, the Bishop family has witnessed almost every day the definition of what true acceptance really looks like as the student body rallied around Travis.

“They’ve just always loved him, right from the very first day,” said Nodie Bishop, Travis’ mother.

Travis wasn’t able to compete in sports or participate in a lot of the other activities that the other kids did as they all grew up together.

But Darby was one of those places where people look out for one another.

When Travis was 9, he got separated from his mother and sister one late fall afternoon. As darkness fell, the word that Travis was missing swept through the town of Darby like wildfire. People dropped what they were doing and joined in the search.

Nodie said back then there were a lot of tears of joy when he was found and brought back home.

It wouldn’t be the last time that tears of joy would be spilled over Travis.

Every year, when it’s time for prom, the junior class nominates candidates for the king and queen.

This year, Travis was one of four nominated for the honor. Per tradition, a ballot is sent out to the entire high school student body to select the two who would wear that crown that night.

When Travis’ sister, Ashley, heard that her brother had been nominated, she decided that he couldn’t go to the prom without a date.

So she came up with a plan to ask him in a way that he would never forget.

She invited a few friends over to her house. They sat down and created a couple of signs, including one that said: “I would go to the moon and back for you. Would you go to prom with me?”

And then she asked the drama teacher if she could ask him at the conclusion of the school play that was presented before the entire student body.

“I have a little bit of stage fright,” she said. “I was a little nervous about that.”

And so when the play ended, the curtains reopened and there stood Ashley and a couple of her friends holding signs and balloons. She asked Travis to come up on the stage.

Right there, in front of the entire school, she asked him if he would take her to the prom.

He, of course, said yes.

“He got up there on the stage and he was really excited,” Ashley remembered. “He was laughing and smiling. And the kids applauded and applauded and applauded. There were tears out there in the audience.

“I didn’t want him to miss out, so I asked him to go with me,” she said.

But the surprises weren’t over quite yet.

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It turned out that the student body chose Travis as the prom king in the secret ballot.

“No one knew until the night of the prom who won,” said Nodie Bishop said. “They told us, but we had to keep it a secret. We couldn’t even tell Ashley.”

After the grand march, the candidates all filed up front.

When Travis’ was named king of the prom, his arms shot up in the air.

“He was really excited and happy that he had won,” Ashley said. “Everyone was screaming and cheering. It was amazing.”

David and Nodie Bishop said it was another example of the care and love that Darby’s student body has always provided their son.

Bryan Dufresne is Darby’s junior class advisor. He’s not surprised one bit at their decision to select Travis for that honor.

“I just think the kids here are incredibly accepting and caring,” Dufresne said. “Travis has always been a part of the fabric of this school. This is a really neat community that accepts kids for who they are.”

When Travis first entered kindergarten, David Bishop said he worried that other kids might pick on him or make fun of him.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “He wasn’t going to be physically capable to play sports. He did do Special Olympics and they all were very supportive of him there.

“It’s like these kids at this school brought him up,” David Bishop said. “They always accepted him right from the very beginning. This school helped raise him."

“He’s going to graduate with the kids he started kindergarten with this year,” Nodie said. “They are the ones who gave him this. They are the ones who voted. I think that says a lot about the kids who go to this school. I think it says a lot about our community.”

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Northwest Montana Reporter

Ravalli Republic Associate Editor