DENISON, Iowa | The path Denison High School students Bradley Meeves and Ana Rogers take to prom on Saturday doesn't start with a tux at Reynold's Clothing in downtown Denison or a gown from David's Bridal in Omaha.
The journey begins in Pettigorst, Russia. Bradley, now 17, is left at an orphanage by his mother, who is 14 when she gives birth. She places the baby boy in a basket, knocks on the door and vanishes.
Sixteen months later, David is adopted by Bryce and Denise Meeves, of Denison, Iowa.
Ana, now 16, is born in a hospital in Bryansk, Russia, and doesn't leave the facility until her adoptive parents, Marti and Greg Rogers, of Schleswig, Iowa, arrive to pick her up.
"I know I was born and that my parents then checked me out of the hospital," Ana says. "My biological mother had three children at the time. I was the first child she gave up for adoption."
How rare is it that two adopted children from Russia walk the halls at Denison High? Not that rare. Rogers and Meeves represent two of nine Denison High School Monarchs who came from Russia.
"I was riding home from a wrestling meet this winter with my mom and Ana's mom and they were talking about getting all eight of us together at some point," Bradley Meeves says.
"I think we will do that," Marti Rogers says. "The kids are now all old enough to understand."
Marti Rogers and Denise Meeves join their children in helping me understand. We talk about 1998, when the Rogers and Meeves families begin an adoption process that bogs down in paperwork and unrealistic restrictions, domestically.
The difficulty leads to a native of Russia who relocates to Des Moines years before and becomes a U.S. citizen while overseeing an international adoption agency.
Marti and Greg Rogers travel to Des Moines to meet their adoption agent on the July 4 holiday weekend, 1998.
"We didn't have children at the time," Marti says. "We really liked the agent and decided we want to proceed."
A caseworker studies the couple while poring over their records. Marti heads to the Crawford County Recorder's Office to make seven copies of her birth certificate, Greg's birth certificate, and their marriage license.
Crawford County Recorder Denise Meeves grows curious. Like Marti Rogers, she has looked into adopting a newborn. A major hangup, according to a U.S. adoption service she contacts, is that Denise is over 40 years old at the time.
"They said I was too old to adopt an infant," she says.
The rule hurts and frustrates her. Rogers and the agent in Des Moines renew Meeves' hope. Denise and Bryce Meeves meet with Rogers' international adoption agent in Des Moines. They soon are placed on the same parental trajectory as their friends from Schleswig.
The process takes nearly one year. Both couples travel to Russia in May 1999. Both couples adopt not one, but two Russian infants. All four children come from poverty.
Little Bradley comes home to Denison with an adopted sister, Brooke, who is 3 months younger. Brooke Meeves is a sophomore at Denison High.
Ana Rogers is 8 months old when she comes home to Iowa, her adopted brother, Josef, is 23 months old. Josef, 17, is currently a senior and plays a role in this prom date students label "Russians reunited."
Josef wrestles at 106 pounds for the Denison Monarchs; Bradley competes as the team's 220-pounder. "This winter I asked Josef if he'd care if I took Ana to prom," Bradley says. "Josef said that it would be OK."
Bradley waits until after a double-dual at Denison before he asks Ana. After suffering two defeats that night, Bradley collects several softballs in a purple bucket, knowing how much Ana enjoys softball. He arranges the softballs and has his mother print a letter on each.
"Mom's handwriting is a lot better than mine," he says, blushing.
The softball arrangement spells out, "Ana ... Prom?"
Bradley hands Ana the bucket. She smiles and says, "Yes."
I smile as Bradley talks about his prom proposal. I pose a hypothetical question: Would he rather win two wrestling matches and get a "No"? Or, would he rather lose a couple of wrestling matches before having Ana say "Yes" to being a couple with him to prom?
Without pause, Bradley glances at his date and says, "I'd take the second choice."
The answer elicits a knowing nod from Denison High School Principal Lynn Torr, who sits nearby. "Good answer, Bradley," he says.
Saturday's grand march, the dinner, the dance and the after-prom party represent firsts for Ana Rogers and her date, Bradley Meeves.
As for two Russians attending prom together? I imagine it's a first for Denison High School as well.