Ruston Fire Capt. Jeff Wherrett teared up as he escorted 44-year-old Jill Moore into a formal ball at the Tacoma Yacht Club on Sunday.
“I saw her eyes light up when we went through the honor guard with the swords, and I got to experience that with her,” Wherrett said.
Moore seemed to have a big smile as Wherrett pushed her wheelchair down the red carpet.
The University Place woman was one of about 150 people who attended the inaugural Metro Parks Tacoma Cinderella Ball, put on by the city’s specialized recreation program and the yacht club itself.
The recreation program holds events that cater to people of all abilities, and many members are longtime friends. Attendees were escorted into the ball by uniformed officials, such as Wherrett, and also by Daffodil Festival Queen Ashley Becker and some of the princesses.
As 24-year-old Sierra Mathieu browsed dresses in advance of the ball, donated by the yacht club, her mom sent texts with fashion advice.
“Not that one, not that one — look for one with sparkles,” Lauren Ramey remembered texting.
Mathieu settled on a black-and-pink gown. Her mom and sister helped straighten, then curl her hair and do her makeup for the big day.
She is developmentally delayed, her mom said, and does not have a definitive diagnosis. Mathieu co-teaches at a local preschool.
“It’s going to be really fun,” she said of the ball as she got ready.
Her date, Burtt Droge, 35, works for a landscaping company.
He had a pink vest and tie to match her dress.
Droge has some autism and a speech deficit. He doesn’t like change, his parents said.
But even through it was new, the ball was a familiar environment, the group said, because they were among friends.
Josh Mayor, a 35-year-old with Down syndrome, was part of their friend group.
Asked if he was excited about the dance, he pointed his thumbs at himself and said “Happy.”
He hoped he’d be able to do some “old-school” dancing, he said.
Christal Nuss, 21, said as she sat off to the side of the dance floor that she was “going to try” to have fun. She was wearing a black sparkly dress, with a tiara she said was from her reign as homecoming queen in high school.
“I need to know where it is so I can come next year,” she said a few minutes into the ball.
Annabelle James, 7, said she would dance with her date, dad Doug.
But first she wanted to get her photo taken in the Cinderella carriage and show a News Tribune reporter her pink corsage, which matched the flowers on her dress.
Among the familiar faces in the crowd was Marcus Bradford, who teaches the popular “Groovin’ with Marcus” dance class at the STAR Center, a Tacoma recreation facility.
His students were killing it on the dance floor Sunday, he said.
Michelle Font, 46, is one of his avid learners.
“The first thing she asks when she wakes up every morning is, ‘What are we going to do today?’ ” her sister Laura Font said.
It’s nice, she said, to be able to tell her that there’s a program activity that day.
Families agreed that the STAR Center is a home away from home. It’s where Laura Font had her baby shower recently. Her sister got to show people around the center and was especially at ease there.
Michelle Font and other students practice dances again and again, because the repetition makes it comfortable. That came in handy Sunday.
“They start getting it without it being stressful, and keeping it fun,” Bradford said.
And he said they were definitely having fun at the ball.
“Everybody wants to dress up,” he said. “It’s part of quality of life. We want it to be: ‘It’s your day.’ ”