Almost three years ago, UC Davis offensive lineman Kooper Richardson — then a senior at Folsom High School — had a choice to make: He could hit the road for his senior class trip to Disneyland or he could attend the Evening of Dreams, a Sacramento prom for people with special needs.
To no one’s surprise, Richardson passed on the House of Mouse and opted for the red-carpet event organized and hosted by the Capital Christian Center. After all, Richardson has a heart to match his size: 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds. He delivered a “promposal” in front of his entire school — the same FHS for which he helped capture a state championship — and happily attended the prom.
Fast forward to this year’s Evening of Dreams, held last Saturday night (May 18), when Richardson, a third-year communication major, attended for a sixth time. His date? That hasn’t changed — he accompanied Maddie, the same young woman he had asked with that promposal from the Folsom High auditorium stage during his senior year. Video: Kooper and Maddie, from promposal to prom.
This is the type of gesture that earned Richardson a Character Combine Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award in his prep senior year. It earned him a nomination to the Allstate AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) Good Works Team in 2018. And it has set an example for his Aggie teammates, so much so that 15 past, present and future UC Davis football players joined him as volunteer dates for the 2019 Evening of Dreams.
Also not surprisingly, Richardson does not participate in this program for the awards. “The smiles on everyone’s faces the entire night are just incredible,” he said. “It’s nothing like you’ve ever experienced before. It makes their year. A lot of them don’t get a chance to go to the regular high school prom, so they look forward to this all year long.”
To Colleen Short, family liaison and guest coordinator for the Evening of Dreams, Richardson and his Aggie teammates’ participation is precisely what makes the event so special. “It is vital to have athletes and student leaders representing this evening,” said Short, now in her ninth year with the special needs prom. “We can't do it without them. They are the hands and feet of Evening of Dreams.”
Saturday night’s Evening of Dreams was the fourth for several of the Aggie participants. “It’s just a fun night to enjoy and have fun with individuals who we’ve gotten to know over the last few years,” said senior running back and animal science major Ethan Hicks, one of the fourth-year attendees. “It’s one of my favorite times of the year, honestly.”
Short said 230 young men and women signed up for this year’s prom, requiring as many dates — most of them area high school and college students with a few (like Kooper) who attended the Evening of Dreams in high school and keep coming back. Other volunteers included more than a dozen members of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department; they arrived in uniform, almost giving the impression that they were there as security detail, but soon they too were paired one-by-one with special needs guests.
An event with almost 500 attendees needs plenty of volunteers, and Short estimated that as many as 300 people helped in some capacity: registration desks, hair and makeup, security, parking, kitchen staff, wait staff, coat check, etc.
Photographers captured the event as if paparazzi, and a studio set up three stations to take the requisite prom photos. Volunteers chauffeured vintage cars to deliver the couples to the red-carpet entrance on the opposite end of the Capital Christian Center campus. An enthusiastic host announced each guest as he or she entered the ballroom, with parents, friends and paparazzi responding with applause or, in some cases, silent applause.
Each year’s event bears a different theme, with this 10th edition having a circus motif. As such, Short rallied her massive team of volunteers while wearing a red circus hat. When the prom took a much-needed break from the karaoke and dancing, a circus stage act had the spotlight.
Both Richardson and Hicks said they hope their experience will encourage other UC Davis student-athletes to participate in the Evening of Dreams. “I have more fun at this prom than I had at my high school prom, so they should give it a shot,” Hicks said.
Richardson made a similar comparison: “Honestly, it’s 10 times more fun than a regular high school prom.”
“It’s a great event, a great way to give back to the community and a great way to give to people who really deserve the opportunity to come to such a special night,” Richardson said. “It’s an incredible experience, and a life-changing one.”