J.T. Thomas went to the prom. Not his own. That was five or six years ago. No, he surprised a special 14-year-old by asking her to her school prom at the Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown, WV.
Joslyn Levell was born with spina bifida that confines her to a wheelchair. She tried and tried to find a date for the prom, and was turned down as many as seven times in one week. Thomas' 7-year-old autistic brother, Jared, rides the same school bus as Levell, who is a huge Chicago Bears fan, the team that drafted Thomas. Levell likes to talk to the bus driver about her life, her day, and her love of the Bears. After Thomas was drafted by the Bears, the bus driver, Jake Tennant, connected the dots, and got in touch with Thomas' stepmother and arranged a meeting between Levell and Thomas. One day, Thomas surprised Lovell by climbing on the bus when it picked up Jared. Levell was wearing a Bears ball cap when Thomas introduced himself. He signed the cap and asked how life was treating her. She said she was down about not being able to get a date to the prom.
"She started to get emotional. I just felt like the people she got turned down by, they weren't looking at her as a person," Thomas said. "They were looking at what she didn't have, instead of what kind of person she was. I told her not to worry about it. Those things would work themselves out.
After the meeting, Thomas couldn't stop thinking about the 'cool little girl' and her plight. He called officials at Suncrest Middle and asked if it would be possible for him to escort Levell to the prom. They said that he would have to sign a release form and pay for a $5 ticket. The next day, Thomas called Joslyn and asked her to the prom.
"I was shocked when he called. I knew (after the conversation on the bus) something would go down like that, but I didn't know anything like this would happen," Joslyn said. "Mom was trying to be sneak, but she wasn't that successful."
Joslyn and her mom went to several stores before finding the perfect dress. She arranged to have her hair done at a salon just before Thomas picked her up to go to the 8th grade prom. The Spina Bifida Association of America says that the average lifetime cost to society to treat someone with that ailment is about $532,000. Between the cost of a $30 corsage and a $5 ticket, Thomas gave something to Levell that she will remember the rest of her life.
Levell told Michael Wright who writes the Bears Blog for ESPN that she accepts who she is and her limitations, is starting to use a walker, and has been doing well with it.
"I came to see her on that bus because I heard she was a die-hard Bears fan," Thomas said before the prom. "This is just about her being happy. Although that dance might last two or three hours, she might have something to remember for the rest of her life. Anytime that you can affect someone's life positively like that, why not?
"How brave of her to ask me; she has no idea," he added. "I'm just as nervous as her about going to the prom. The thing is, we're all the same people, and that's what I want to stress to her and everybody else."