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Lake Oswego High School junior with special needs earns a varsity letter in soccer

REVIEW PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Lake Oswego High junior Josie Downey proudly holds her varsity letter in soccer. 'Josie is a kid who, once she commits to something, she sees it through,' says coach Dominic Yambasu. 'I really respect her.'Josie Downey, a junior at Lake Oswego High School in the special education program, has been awarded a varsity letter in soccer — an accomplishment that school officials say is rare for students with special needs.

Josie, who has played soccer for 10 years, currently is a member of the LOHS girls junior varsity two (or JV2) team. She was also the team manager for the varsity soccer team during playoffs.

She says she loves everything about the sport.

"I like running after the ball," she says, adding that she likes playing midfield and forward because those positions involve going toward the goal. She says that despite living with epilepsy and having trouble articulating when speaking, she doesn't see herself as different from anyone else on the field.

"I just think I'm normal," she says.

Josie's mother, Kirsten Downey, was also in special education as a child.

"I worked my way out after 10 years in the program," Kirsten says. "It is important for kids that are in special ed. They're going to grow up to be an adult with special needs, but that doesn't mean it has to hold them back."

That attitude has informed the way Kirsten has raised her two children, both of whom have special needs. She is extremely supportive of her two children, she says, and proud of their many talents.

"Josie is a unique soccer player in that she can score with both feet," says Kirsten. "One time she kicked one goal in with her right foot, and a couple minutes later she scored with her left foot. She's strong with both feet."

Kirsten isn't the only one who encourages Josie on the field. Josie says her current team is very supportive, especially compared to some of her past teams. "This team is better than the rest," she says. "The players aren't as competitive. I'm just in it for the fun."

"Camaraderie-wise, they're very much supportive of each other," adds Kirsten.

Dominic Yambasu, who is the varsity girls soccer coach and head of the soccer program at LOHS, recruited Josie to be the manager of the varsity team during playoffs.

"She did a wonderful job managing the team. She was at all our events. She is a very dedicated student athlete," he says. "Josie is a kid who, once she commits to something, she sees it through. I really respect her."

Kirsten says LOHS has been supportive of special-needs students and that administrators tend to be encouraging. One administrator in particular who stands out to Josie and her mom: Principal Rollin Dickinson.

"He's easy to talk to," Josie says. "He supports me, and he listens to me."

Josie "has a hard time talking and getting comfortable with people, but she feels comfortable with Rollin," Kirsten adds.

Dickinson has similarly positive feelings about Josie's presence at LOHS.

"I deeply appreciate Josie's sincerity and warmth," he says, "and how open she is with others."

Dickinson says he thinks it's important for students with special needs to be involved in a school activity.

"We want all of our students to be involved, to connect with others, and to extend themselves and grow," he says. "Playing a sport, joining the cast of the musical or being part of a club all provide great opportunities for our students to meaningfully extend their learning beyond the classroom and help shape and participate in our community."

Despite the support they do receive, Kirsten says Lake Oswego can be a difficult place to raise students with special needs.

"Lake Oswego is driven by athletics and academics," she says. "Kids that are special needs are totally forgotten about from that perspective. And that's why I'm on a path to show kids that they can do it too. It's about finding yourself and finding your strengths."

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Claire Holley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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