Patriots select their prince
November 25, 2008
By Jim Feehan
Liberty High School juniors honor classmate with Down syndrome at homecoming
Kevin McCarthy is a prince of a young man. Last month, his Liberty High School classmates elected him homecoming royalty for the junior class.
McCarthy, who lives in the China Creek neighborhood of Newcastle, outpolled two classmates to earn the title of homecoming prince. At Liberty, the senior class picks the homecoming king and queen among fellow seniors, while the junior class selects a prince and princess.
McCarthy was nominated a week earlier and he felt he had a good shot at wearing the crown. The 17-year-old special-needs student with Down syndrome captured the hearts of his fellow students with his positive attitude and unwavering kindness.“When I was nominated, I just knew I was going to win,” McCarthy said. “I was happy when my name was called.”
Elated, he raised his arm in the air and gave a fist pump as the school assembly crowd roared in appreciation. Classmates gave him a send-off complete with all the pomp and circumstance fit for royalty, right down to the red carpet.
A few weeks earlier, McCarthy asked Sarah Lowes, also of Newcastle, to the dance. Lowes, also a junior at Liberty, has been a friend of Kevin’s since the two were second-graders at Apollo Elementary School.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Lowes said. “He makes me happy. Even when I’m upset, he puts a smile on my face.”
Kevin’s mother, Peggy McCarthy, said classmates have staunchly supported him.
“The school needs to be very proud,” she said. “The acceptance and love these kids have for him, it’s amazing.”
Kevin’s election as prince recognizes his many contributions to the high school, notably his endlessly cheery attitude and sociability.
“When classmates pass him in the hall, it’s always, ‘Hey Kevin, or hey, K-Dog,’” Peggy said.
A football coach his freshman year gave him the nickname “K-Dog” and it stuck.
For homecoming, Kevin and Sarah joined three other couples. A few hours before the dance began, they greeted Kevin with high-fives and gushed over his look: a black tuxedo, well-shined shoes and hair combed neatly to the side. The girls teetered in heels, coiffed hair and sparkling dresses. Digital cameras emerged from the pockets and purses of proud parents eager to capture the moment.
In between dinner at BJ’s restaurant in Tukwila and the dance, the couples decided to bowl a few games at Hillcrest Bowl in Renton.
“The people at the bowling alley kept looking at us,” Kevin said. “It’s hard to bowl in a tuxedo.”
Later that night, Kevin busted a few moves on the dance floor, much to the delight of his classmates.
“The people cheered for me and I waved back at the audience,” he said.
Denise Vogel, a special-education teacher at Liberty, credits Kevin’s parents, Peggy and Steve, for their unwavering desire for Kevin to have a traditional high school experience.
“It all starts with the parents, encouraging Kevin, and expecting the best from him from day one,” Vogel said.
Classmates know Kevin as a genuine, nice, caring individual, she said.
“The kids all know him and appreciate him for who he is,” Vogel said. “I’ve never seen anyone treat him like he’s disabled.”
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. The incidence of Down syndrome is estimated at 1 per 800 to 1,000 births, although these statistics are heavily influenced by the age of the mother.
Kevin hopes to eventually land an internship with either the Mariners or the Seahawks, whose headquarters is in nearby Renton. He already has experience, serving as a manager for the Liberty varsity football team.
He leads huddle breaks at practice, giving an occasional speech to the team, and takes water to the players during timeouts, said head football coach Steve Valach.
“We always talk about focus, and one of Kevin’s famous lines is, ‘C’mon, guys, focus up,’” Valach said.
In the closing seconds of the Kennedy-Liberty playoff game, offensive tackle Troy Solly injured his ankle and was about to be carted off the field. Before heading to the hospital, he joined his teammates during a post-game meeting in the middle of Highline Stadium. When Kevin saw Solly, he gave him a big bear hug.
“Through Kevin, each of us, coaches and players, are reminded to enjoy life,” Valach said. “Don’t forget to let the little kid in you come out every now and again.”
Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or firstname.lastname@example.org.