If you’ve met Mikey Tagg then you know what joy looks like.
The 18-year-old Ontario senior embodies exuberance and excitement — and he’s not afraid to share it with anyone he meets.
In fact, his parents Mike and Angela Tagg joked that Mikey has made them famous, saying they’re known around town as “Mikey’s parents.”
Mikey has trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down syndrome. This genetic condition is caused by an extra copy of the 21st chromosome in every cell, resulting in intellectual disability and developmental delays.
“When you see him walking down the street you might just see a kid who looks a little bit different, but in reality he brings all of the typical 18-year-old things to the table, but so much more with his attitude on life,” said his older sister Maribeth.
Maribeth, who’s in her final semester at the University of Akron School of Law, has played an active role in advocating for her brother and others with Down syndrome. As a contestant and top-ten finalist in the Miss Ohio program last year, she made Down syndrome awareness the focal point of her platform, which was titled, “The Up Side of Downs.”
Mikey is no recluse or idler: he takes involvement to the next level by participating in a laundry list of organizations and functions — Key Club, drama club, marching band, concert band and the Drug Free Trader Card program at Ontario High School, to name a few.
“Just even putting him in the marching band and having him out on that field and being exposed to so many kids his own age and so many different environments has completely changed him in the last four years,” Maribeth said.
“I try to use Mikey almost as a poster child and say look at all of the amazing things that can come out of the opportunities that he’s been given...Let’s see if we can get those opportunities for other people like him.”
Parents Mike and Angela agree.
“He's so outgoing,” Mike said. “If we had just sheltered him and kept him out of all that stuff, he wouldn't be the same person that he is.”
When classes aren’t in session, he tags along with his parents, who are both educators at Ontario Middle School, making sure to greet anyone he sees in the hallway.
“He says hi to every teacher and they say, ‘You guys just must have the greatest life’ because he makes people laugh,” Mike said.
Mikey is slated to graduate from Ontario High School this year.
Angela and Mike admitted they were a little nervous about not being in the same building as their son when he entered high school (having had this opportunity for both his elementary and middle school years). Angela was a third grade teacher at Stingel Elementary when Mikey was in elementary school and then became the language arts teacher at the middle school when Mikey was in seventh grade. Mike has taught eighth grade social studies at Ontario for the past 12 years.
“When he went to high school, we were a little scared at first,” Mike said. “We always wanted an aide to be with him, and now we know that he doesn't need an aide with him unless it's dangerous.”
In addition to his core classes, he’s taken a variety of electives, including art, wood shop, computer graphics, culinary arts, among others.
High school physical education teacher Kris Knapp has taken Mikey under his wing, having known Mikey since he first started elementary school.
“Now that he is older and I have had him in class, I am trying to help him gain more self-confidence in job tasks and speaking to people. Not that Mikey has trouble speaking to people, but I want him to understand how to speak to people in an authoritative way in order to get a task completed,” Knapp said.
He lets Mikey take attendance for gym class, and Mikey has put his own spin on it by asking students an icebreaker question.
“He did this on his own and it makes all the students pay attention during attendance, so now I jump right in with it,” Knapp said. “I learned something from him. He got the kids engaged.”
Knapp said Mikey has earned the respect from the entire student body.
"He also has learned to help others and become involved in his own way,” he said.
“I cannot think of any student here at Ontario that doesn't know who Mikey Tagg is.”
And it’s not just the student body who’s familiar with Mikey, but many others in the community.
“I jokingly say that if we actually had him run for mayor, because he's now 18, he would get a lot of votes,” Mike said.
The Ontario mayor himself, Randy Hutchinson, playfully calls Mikey the mayor.
“Mikey is an energetic and fun person to be around,” Hutchinson said.
He’s proven that he’s unafraid of taking center stage — from karaoke and lip sync performances, to a drum solo in a halftime show and a part in the school play, “Peter Pan.”
He’s currently working on a dance number for the battle of the sexes contest at school.
“I’m so excited for that,” he said with a sheepish grin.
Soon he’ll resume the role of manager for the baseball team, or “Dugout Warrior” as he’s called by the team.
He’ll also participate in the Richland County Special Olympics program later this spring, competing in the bowling, track and field and softball throw events.
After he graduates, he will attend Pioneer Career and Technology Center to study hospitality as part of a special program called STEPS.
Mikey said he may one day pursue a job at hotel, restaurant or hospital.
This summer he will take part in a five-week program organized by the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, during which he’ll have the chance to learn how to apply and interview for a job, as well as gain work experience at a local site alongside a job coach.
Until then, he’s looking forward to attending his second prom and just hanging out with his friends — his many friends, that is — at school.