September 2022 ~
She followed a tried and true path to the PIL Hall of Fame, and she’s been devoted to Portland Public Schools.
“I’m PPS through and through,” she says.
Julie Rierson (Franklin, 1987) went from Southeast Portland tomboy to successful high school multi-sport jock to college star athlete and winner to PPS coach, teacher and administrator.
She’s now in her first year as principal at Ockley Green Middle School.
Along the way, she’s been a team player in every sense of those two words.
“I had fantastic coaches” in volleyball, basketball and softball at Franklin, she recalls. “The thing I appreciated the most was that while winning was a goal, it was really about the teamwork and figuring out your role, stepping up to take it and supporting each other. It always felt like a family.
“When I later was coaching, I really tried to push the girls to push themselves to be the best they could be in terms of skill, but also it was about teamwork and supporting each other and building relationships.”
That team philosophy has served her well professionally as well as personally, and in 2019 she was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame.
“I was honored to be recognized. It was lovely. Very nice,” she says. “I also knew I wouldn’t have gotten to that place without my teammates and my coaches.
“It’s always about more than one person’s achievements.”
In Rierson’s life, that started with both supportive parents and with an older sister who also had a big interest in athletics.
Her mom went to Milwaukie High; her dad grew up in Amity and graduated from Gresham. Julie remembers growing up around sports as she was coming up through the grades at Kellogg and Atkinson schools.
“There was always a basketball in my hands; there was a hoop at our house (at Southeast 62nd Avenue and Tibbetts Street),” she says. “My sister (Susi) wound up doing three sports at Franklin as well. She and I were like tomboys, me more than her.”
Julie recalls getting onto a team (in basketball) for the first time when she was attending middle school and playing a lot of softball as a youngster. And while she was in middle school at Kellogg, she got introduced to volleyball, which ended up being her biggest sport.
“I’ve always loved team sports,” she says.
Franklin was her district high school and a natural choice for grades 9 through 12, but briefly she toyed with the idea of enrolling at Marshall.
“Marshall had an honors program and was excelling in girls sports,” she says. “But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, with my older brother and sister and all my friends going to Franklin.”
She played junior varsity volleyball and basketball as a freshman, and that spring made the varsity team in softball.
“I thought basketball was my best sport, and I was a little surprise I made varsity softball that year,” she said.
Starting her sophomore year, she was a varsity standout in all three sports, and soon “volleyball became my love, and I was all in with it.”
Rierson, a 6-1 middle blocker, was all-PIL in volleyball as a junior and senior. She also made the all-league team once in basketball as a post player and was a second-team selection in softball, mostly playing center field.
Sports helped her get through a family tragedy and big loss – her mother got cancer and died six months later.
“It was sports that gave me the outlet I needed, the connections and support,” she said. “The people I knew from sports cared about me.”
Key figures for her at Franklin included coaches Ann Olson and Brian Crook.
“I was always really hard on myself,” she said. “At times, it was not the most positive attitude that I had. I was my worst enemy. Ann and Brian called me out on that and pushed me to get into the other side of that, though it took me well into college to really do so.”
Also at Franklin, she got involved in band and student leadership, although sports demanded most of her time. And she was senior class president and salutatorian.
For college, “I was looking for something to challenge me academically,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher and stay in the Pacific Northwest.”
With a single father who was about to retire, it was important to not take on a big student loan, and she got the opportunity she wanted to play volleyball for Lewis & Clark College. On top of that, the Pioneers had a very good program; they had finished second in the nation the year before she arrived.
Rierson played four years for the Pios, and the team won four Northwest Conference championships, along with a district title. Rierson was an NAIA district all-star who led L&C in kills, blocks and service aces.
She also came out of basketball “retirement” as a junior to play for the school.
“I had missed it so much,” she said.
Today, with her busy career, she still finds time to play racquetball – “I picked it up a couple years ago and am loving it” – and do some hiking, kayaking and dragon boat racing.
At Lewis & Clark, she had a double major (health and math) and earned a degree in math and masters in math teaching.
Her teaching and coaching career began at Corbett High, where she taught math and coached basketball and volleyball.
Then she got a call letting her know that Madison had an opening, and she went to work there in 1993 before the path ending up leading her back to her alma mater for about 15 years. She coached volleyball and some freshman basketball at Franklin.
“I still live in the Franklin community, and my two boys (ages 22 and 18) graduated from there,” she said.
Her path took its next twist, though, when she seized the opportunity to become the math curriculum specialist for the district.
While doing that job, she realized she wanted to get into administration.
That path took her to Cleveland for three years (2016-19) as a vice principal.
Then came a second opportunity at Franklin, and she spent three years there (2019-21) as a VP.
In June, the path had new ideas for her. And so she is at Ockley Green, where she is settling into the principal’s office and is excited about the challenge as well as the potential to be more directly involved in PIL youth sports.
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)