Moorea Howson stepped with ease into Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis last week, grinning and greeting everyone she met among the 72 homecoming queens recruited to entertain the 75,000 cheering fans.
“She’s a little spitfire; she would cheer for both teams,” said Pam Kimery, event manager for the Liberty Bowl, where Georgia beat TCU 31-23 Friday, Dec. 30.
Howson was among the 800 people, from dancers to band members, on the field during the pre-show and half-time, said Kimery. Even among that crowd, her excitement was palpable. She loved the food, the entertainment, the dress she wore, the pearls in her hair. “She thanked all of the military service members for their service. She was such a joy,” Kimery said.
Howson, known as Moe by her family and friends, stands 4’ 9” and weighs 90 pounds. She was invited to join the Liberty Bowl hoopla as a consequence of being crowned Laguna Beach High’s homecoming queen in 2015. She also competed in the California State Homecoming queen pageant. Although she did not win a second crown, her peers nominated her as the most congenial contestant, giving her the opportunity to be invited to the Liberty Bowl.
The 18-year-old graduated from high school last June. She was diagnosed from an early age with Williams syndrome, a rare developmental disorder. True to her congenial nature, she said the best part of her trip to Tennessee was visiting children who are being treated for cancer at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for catastrophic diseases.
“No child is turned away because of his or her cancer,” she explained in an interview at home after the trip, adding, “no matter what you go through in life, you need to be thankful for what you have.”
Howson’s empathy and engaging personality caught the attention of local resident Christine Fugate, filmmaker and film professor at Chapman University. Fugate also traveled to Memphis to capture footage of Howson on the field for a 30-minute documentary she is producing independently about the teen. Fugate hopes to complete the film this year and enter it in film festivals.
A longtime friend of Kris and Robert Howson and their daughters Jade and Moorea, Fugate says she attended the football game when their eldest daughter won the crown. As Howson dropped to her knees and kissed the turf, “I turned around and everyone was crying,” Fugate recalled. “I said, ‘wow, I have to make a movie about this’.”
For help financing the effort, she enlisted another resident, Jim Utt, whose investment earned him the title executive producer. “I hope that it touches people and gives exposure to what others need to hear,” said Utt, grateful he has the economic flexibility to help with a worthy cause.
Fugate is open to involvement by others and is accepting donations at queenmoorea.com in exchange for film credits, premier tickets and movie t-shirts. Her ambition is for a film premier at the local Laguna theater once it reopens, though she has yet to broach the idea with the new operators.
Following graduation, Howson enrolled in Futures, a school for students with special needs in Orange County that is affiliated with the Laguna Beach school district, said her mother, Kris. She studies life skills and is training to be aware of strangers, Ms. Howson said.
While typically young children learn and absorb the social cues of “stranger danger,” people with Williams syndrome are trusting by nature, she explained. Her daughter is also learning to independently safely cross a street, cook for herself and make purchases with a debit card.
At one point, Ms. Howson thought her daughter might want to live at Glennwood House, the residential facility for adults with developmental disabilities in Laguna Beach. But after a tour, she concluded her daughter currently lacks the independent life skills necessary. Instead, her oldest daughter continues to lives at home with her sister Jade, a stand out in a different arena. The 14-year-old recently received a world ranking of 15th in stand up paddle boarding.
When reflecting on her high school experience, Howson feels like it ended too soon. She still visits to cheer her former classmates.
Her career goal is to work in the medical field. She envisions herself as a liaison for parents whose children confront surgery. She confidently knows she could comfort them, having overcome her own obstacles. “Come on. There’s a way; it’s called proving them wrong.”
Correction appended Jan. 6: The comment by Kris Howson about her daughter’s lack of readiness referred to her preparation for enrollment in a UCLA Pathway program rather than her ability to live at Glennwood House.