When Heritage High School announced its homecoming queen Friday night, Sierra Morris pumped her arm like one of the Lady Vols after making a 3-point shot.
In that instant, the senior said her only feeling was the Holy Spirit.
As she looked at the cheering crowd, Sierra saw tears rolling down the cheeks of her mother, Tina Hundley.
“It was probably the most beautiful thing I will ever see,” the mother said.
“I am really thankful that Sierra is a student at Heritage, and I’m proud of her peers and the school and our church family and the community,” Hundley said. “They don’t only include her; they celebrate her for who she is.”
Hugs and hearts
The high school’s basketball homecoming theme was games, and for the pep rally Friday afternoon Sierra was dressed as a playing card. Teacher Kelly Parker made her costume, the queen of hearts.
For those who know Sierra, that was a perfect choice.
“She hugs about 50 million people a day,” said Sierra’s sister Jenna Christopher, a freshman at HHS.
“That’s probably a low estimate,” said Heritage Lady Mountaineers Coach Rick Howard, who coached Sierra’s older sister and has known Sierra since she was about 5 years old. “She’s a wonderful young lady.”
At Heritage High School, Howard said, “Everyone knows her and really cares about her … She just makes your day.”
Their mother says a simple trip to town with Sierra includes stopping five or six times while the girl hugs and talks with various people.
If Hundley asks, Sierra may not even remember the people’s names but where she met them, such as Maryville College.
At HHS Sierra, who has Down syndrome, has been a student in the comprehensive development classroom, which provides a small, structured environment.
This school year Sierra has been working in dining services at the college through Project SEARCH, a school-to-work transition program, doing tasks such as wiping tables and vacuuming.
She gives more than hugs, too. When Jenna was selling cookies as a fundraiser for the theater program, Sierra used her Christmas money to buy five packages and gave them to her friends.
“That’s classic Sierra,” Jenna said.
Riding a bus to a Lady Vols basketball game, Sierra frequently tries to give her seat to someone who is standing.
Shoots the 3
Last year Sierra became manager for the HHS girls varsity basketball team. “All of the girls fell in love with her,” the coach said. “She’s part of the Lady Mountaineers family.”
Basketball is Sierra’s passion. The University of Tennessee, University of Connecticut and Heritage High School.
Sierra played basketball when she was a student at Eagleton Middle School. “She has an amazing three-point shot,” her mother said.
Howard agreed, “She can shoot the three.”
The coach and Sierra have a special gesture they make on their forehead when she does, as they say “Three.”
Ask Sierra how she makes the shot, and she might simply show you the motion of shooting the ball, say “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy” or just answer “God.”
“God’s always inside me,” Sierra said. “He has blessed me a lot.”
Hundley said Sierra has an intuition for when someone is feeling bad and will hug the person and say, “It’ll be OK. I love you.”
A member of the Youth Group at Rio Revolution Church, Sierra loves to serve doughnuts on Sunday morning and volunteer with the 3-year-olds. She’ll serve their snack of Goldfish crackers and help them learn a memory verse with hand gestures.
“They are awesome,” Sierra said, beaming. “They are so cute.”
Sierra will graduate from Heritage this year, and when asked about her plans she says, “I want to be a leader.”