For the first time in Washougal High School (WHS) history, the Panthers’ unified soccer team kicked its way to the Unified Soccer State Championship tournament, held last month in Sumner.
WHS went on a run, advancing to the final game and earning silver medals.
The Panthers played three games on May 25, starting with a 3-2 double-overtime victory over Kentridge, followed by a physical 4-2 win over White River and then a 2-1 loss to Othello in the title match.
WHS plays in Division 2, which is for teams that are competitive, but are working to gain soccer skills and knowledge.
Athletes with disabilities bond with other students
The unified soccer program, part of the Special Olympics, started in Clark County six years ago to give high school students with special needs the confidence-building experience of being on a team and playing competitive sports.
The unified teams are made up of students with disabilities (athletes) and other students (partners), who all work together as friends and teammates.
Typically there are five athletes and five partners to a team, but the Panthers had seven athletes and three partners, including senior Audrey Flock, whose brother, Luke, plays on the team.
“This group of athletes never makes you feel judged,” Audrey Flock said, “and they never fail to make you smile and laugh.”
Caleb Graham, who will be the Panthers’ senior class president this fall, is another partner. He played alongside his brother, Kaden, who is known for having a powerful foot.
“One time he shot the ball so hard, it knocked the net over,” WHS coach Dani Allen said.
Caleb, Audrey and Kaden were offensive weapons for the Panthers throughout the season.
“They formed a triangle and then worked the ball all over the field with incredible passing around all the other players,” Allen said.
The Panthers’ top goalie was Dylan Corbitt.
“He only has the use of one hand and the kid can block goals like you wouldn’t believe,” Allen said. “It’s just totally amazing.”
Andrew Valenzuala won the sportsmanship award at the final game.
“It was awesome to see because he gets so excited,” Allen said. “He just makes you smile. You can’t not smile when you are talking with Andrew.”
Other team members include Shelbi Langston, Nathan Odenthal, Jose Alonso, Joselynn Lake and Kaitlynn McKee, who became the team manager after breaking her foot during the first game of the season.
Going on a great adventure
For some of the athletes, the trip to the state tournament was the first time in their lives that they had ever traveled away from home and stayed in a hotel room.
For those athletes, doing things like sharing a room with three other people created moments of anxiety, but the friendships and camaraderie built over a season of success helped everyone overcome any difficult moments, according to their coach.
“To see these kids grow and to be celebrated is just awesome,” Allen said.
After winning the district tournament, the entire school gave the team an emotional sendoff as it hopped on the bus to the state tournament.
After winning silver medals, the students were again celebrated along with other WHS student-athletes who qualified for state tournament play this year during a schoolwide assembly on Tuesday, May 4. There were also proud parents in attendance.
“The pride these parents have is just phenomenal because when you work with kids with disabilities you don’t always have a lot to celebrate,” Allen said. “To see these kids play their hearts out and then to watch the pride on the parents’ faces, it’s just amazing.”
The unified team brought pride to the entire school, and the silver medal achievement will be on display for future Panthers to see in the WHS trophy case.