Gaither soccer player fights for right to play senior season
TAMPA, Fla. - Soccer player Josh Rodriguez has already beaten the odds just by being on the field at Gaither High School in Tampa.
"There are some challenges for me as a deaf person with communication and working with teammates," said Rodriguez.
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Rodriguez may be deaf, but the Cowboys soccer player has never let that stop him from playing the game he loves. It's a game that was almost taken away from him through no fault of his own, though.
"I wanted to continue playing," said Rodriguez. "I couldn't imagine not being involved in this until the very end."
Rodriguez is 19 years old, older than any of his other classmates or teammates.
Because of his disability, Rodriguez needed extra time to finish grade school. He started his senior year of high school already at 19 years old, meaning he aged out of his eligibility to play sports.
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"We had to be realistic and say 'You might not play,'" said Melissa Laliotis.
Laliotis is Rodriguez's guardian and calls herself Josh's "Tampa mom."
Before his junior year of high school, Rodriguez moved to Miami with his family but returned to Tampa to finish out high school at Gaither, staying with the Laliotis family in the meantime.
But after Rodriguez already missed playing soccer his junior season because of the move, Laliotis, along with many district and school administrators, were determined to get him back on the field for his senior season.
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"I was so grateful, so grateful for Josh [Rodriguez], because without everybody's help it wouldn't have happened," said Laliotis.
With an army of supporters behind him, Rodriguez took his case to the Florida High School Athletic Association to try and gain an exception to play his senior season.
"I just couldn't imagine if he couldn't play. That, for me, was the hardest part," said Rodriguez's coach at Gaither High School, Trevor Scott.
Scott also remembers that it was Josh, himself, who swayed the vote, and captured the hearts of the board of directors as he spoke to them using American Sign Language.
"He still had to get across the whole board of people and talk," remembered Scott. "When he told his story, everyone started tearing up."
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In the end, the FHSAA granted Rodriguez an exception and allowed the 19-year-old senior to playout his senior season.
"I had no words, but I was thrilled!" said Rodriguez. "My heart was racing, and I was looking forward to playing and being here."
Now, back on the field where he belongs, Josh continues to beat the odds' day in and day out and hopes to one day play soccer at the collegiate ranks.