OAKHURST — Mountain area residents know how much the youth of our community are loved and supported, and we like to keep up on what they’re doing once they finish high school and move on out into the greater world.
Katie Thompson is a 2017 graduate of Yosemite High School (YHS). Quiet and shy, she is known for her prowess on the softball field. However, her talents are many and varied.
Thompson is an award-winning athlete, award-winning and published artist, amazing yoyoist and a valedictorian upon graduation from YHS. And, Thompson accomplished all this, being an autistic person.
Katie is a rarity in the world of autism, not only because she is attending college, but she’s also a collegiate athlete. She successfully competed as a softball catcher/outfielder one year at Reedley — with the team winning their conference — and spent a second year at Folsom Lake.
She’s been on the Dean’s list every semester of her college career — not an easy feat for anyone, much less a person with autism.
“Finding enough study time is one of my biggest challenges,” says Thompson. “Having autism and other learning disabilities, I need more time for homework to get good grades. So basically, all I do is school, homework and softball. There isn’t really time for much of a social life.”
Katie finished her spring semester with a 4.0 and has a respectable overall GPA of 3.77.
“But the good grades are my reward, along with the life-long friendships I’ve made with some teammates.”
In May, Folsom Lake College presented Thompson with the Flying Falcon Award, given to one student athlete in the entire department who had to overcome challenges and adversity, yet still succeeded, both academically and in their sport.
“It really was an honor to be recognized,” Katie humbly states. “But I don’t always see autism as a disability. Sometimes it’s just a different ability.”
This upbeat outlook on life is what Thompson is known for. She hopes to use this positive attitude to her future career in psychology, perhaps being a sports psychologist.
The journey continues.
Katie was sought out and recruited by two 4-year colleges and chose San Diego Christian to continue her academic and softball career.
She was awarded a partial scholarship, but even with financial aide and student loans, she has fallen short of funds to attend.
“I earned money working this summer and have most of my tuition and housing covered, but still need the balance, plus funds to buy books and a few living expenses.”
With Thompson’s recruitment falling near the end of the academic year, there were few grants or scholarships open to apply for, says her mom, Beth Jones. It’s simply not enough for her to get into school in August without some help.
“There really aren’t words to describe how proud I am of my daughter,” says Jones, with whom Thompson lives in Oakhurst when she’s not in school. Thompson is the granddaughter of longtime community members Cleon and Kathy Jones, former publishers of the Sierra Star, and members of our community for nearly 60 years. Kathy passed away last month and it was her wish, Jones says, that Katie go on to school at San Diego.
“College life is difficult enough for neurotypical people, but for someone with autism, it’s a daily climb up Everest, something only the parents of a special needs child — adult or not — can truly understand.”
Jones, an Oakhurst native, is hoping the generous mountain community will help Katie continue her life journey.
“Like all parents, I’d like to give my daughter the world, but I can’t.”
The family is reaching out to individuals, community service organizations, businesses and anyone with a heart to help.
Beth Jones contributed to this article, including photographs.