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Student steps up to the challenge

Shaker senior school’s first student with special needs to play varsity sport

Shaker High School senior, Gianna MacPhee, second from right, was recognized with a standing ovation at Shaker girls varsity soccer senior night. MacPhee, pictured with her two sisters and coach Tara O'Keefe, was the first student with special needs to play a varsity sport at Shaker High School.

Shaker High School senior, Gianna MacPhee, second from right, was recognized with a standing ovation at Shaker girls varsity soccer senior night. MacPhee, pictured with her two sisters and coach Tara O'Keefe, was the first student with special needs to play a varsity sport at Shaker High School. Photo by Billy DeLap.

A local high school student overcame adversity, with the support of her family, coaches, team and community, to become the first special needs student to play a varsity sport at Shaker High School.

On Oct. 16, Shaker High School’s girl’s varsity soccer team held its Senior Night to honor the senior class. But the highlight of the halftime ceremony was the ovation that Gianna MacPhee, a student with Down’s syndrome, received when her name was called.

Albany County recently honored Tara O’Keefe, the girl’s varsity soccer coach, for her work as a mentor and a coach. When O’Keefe isn’t coaching, she works as a housing specialist with the Albany County Department of Mental Health. She is responsible for developing, maintaining and promoting mental health opportunities in the county.

“Not only because she’s a county employee do we want to recognize her, but it really takes a coach’s commitment to allow a kid with special needs to play on the team,” said Albany County Supervisor, Dan McCoy. “It should also go to show, not just to Albany County, but the surrounding region, that if you have a kid with special needs, they can participate in the same sports.”

What makes playing on the soccer team even better for Gianna is the fact she’s a teammate of her sisters. Gianna’s younger sister, AnnaLisa, is a junior who has been on the varsity team all year, and Adrianna was brought up from junior varsity for sectionals. Gianna said playing with her sisters motivates her to try harder, and that her favorite thing about soccer is just having fun and playing with the team.

Gianna had played soccer before, but it was under Coach Michael Brehm, the ninth-grade girl’s soccer coach and family friend of the MacPhees. It was he who suggested that Gianna join the school team.

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