Justin DeSorgher does not expect leadership from young athletes, but “to have it,’’ he says, “ is rare and important.”
Mackenzie Dutton is a take-charge young woman, whether she is tending goal for DeSorgher’s Metro girls’ hockey squad at the annual Bay State Summer Games competition, or off the ice, raising the awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that hits close to home.
In her first appearance in the Games, the Andover teen is exuding nothing but confidence and excitement.
“In the locker room she is always starting conversation with the whole team,” said Metro teammate Siobhan Burke of West Roxbury, who admires Dutton's ability to boost team chemistry.
Last fall, she received the captain’s Spirit Award as a member of the state champion Andover High School girls’ swimming and diving team.
On Thursday afternoon, the rising senior will probably get the starting nod in goal on Rink 1 at New England Sports Center in Marlborough, when Metro plays its first game, taking on Central/West.
But her persistence in talking about ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is just one reason the 17-year-old Dutton was one of this year’s six recipients of a Future Leaders Scholarship from the summer games.
Two years ago, her father, Nyle, lost his battle with ALS. Nearly a year later, his sister, Nean, succumbed. The disease killed their father, Neil, too.
“I got involved almost immediately,’’ said Dutton.
One of her first objectives: raise money for 5K4Life, an annual road race hosted by Prize4Life, a foundation that raises money to further ALS awareness and research.
Her goal: raise $4,800, or $100 for every year her father was alive (48 years.) She raised more than $5,000 for the race last November, earning a Prize4Life Courage Award that was presented at a gala last month.
In her acceptance speech, she said, “We can always find a way to do the impossible. If my dad has taught me anything, it was that.”
Dutton carries herself with a high level of maturity, and the success of her first mission boosted her confidence even more.
“It made her feel so encouraged that people wanted to help. She felt powerful,'' said her mother, Doreen Dutton. “It was rewarding for her to help make a difference.”
Her determined daughter said, “Hopefully I can do something to better the world.”
Her most powerful tool may be her voice.
After the 5K4Life marathon, she has spoken at various conferences, spreading the word about ALS, a disease that her mother describes as a “death sentence.”
In a personal message on her fund-raising page, Dutton related how her father was “the hardest worker, nicest guy, the most generous man you could imagine. I’ve never been in a real argument with him. His quick sense of humor, of which my brother [7-year-old Zachary] has attained although having only seven years to spend with him, allowed every moment to be enjoyable no matter the challenges.”
She misses their conversations about the seasons, renewable energy, places he had traveled to, and on the few occasions, the idea of living off the bare minimum.
“Every conversation made me feel as though I was a great friend of his rather than a daughter,'' the passage continued. “And I lost my greatest friend soon after his 49th birthday.,”
Dutton brings the same strength and courage to the ice.
“She always encourages her teammates and is very helpful with underclassmen. She made me and the other freshmen feel welcome on the high school team as first-year players,’’ said Caroline Hughes , a teammate on the Metro squad and at Andover High.
Dutton started 14 of 20 games in goal at Andover this past winter. “It was an absolute pleasure to coach her,'' said former Andover coach Phil Rowley . “She has been through a lot and has endured it well.”
Her two biggest fans, though, are her mother and brother.
“I'm proud of her,” said Zachary Dutton, who considers his sister a best friend and role model.
Mackenzie and Zachary have participated the past two years at Comfort Zone Camp, a resource for those of all ages seeking comfort, advice, and someone to share their stories with.
Mackenzie is training to become a counselor at the camp.
This week, Dutton is taking her passion to the ice for the Metro squad.
“We hope to just keep getting better and better,” said Melanie Murphy , also a teammate at Andover High.
In his third year guiding the Metro squad, DeSorgher said, “I really just want these girls to have a good time, because if they're not having fun, than neither am I.”
Names to watch as
Bay State games begin
Philip Dytko of Swampscott, a member of the boys’ swimming team as well as the photography and investment clubs at St. John’s Prep, also received a Future Leaders’ Scholarship from the Bay State Summer Games. He carries a weighted grade point average of 4.49, is a member of the freshman orientation group leader, and an open house tour guide. . . .
The Northeast scholastic boys’ and girls’ basketball teams tap off Bay State Games’ play Thursday.
With a roster that includes Nick Gagliolo and Devin Thompson of defending Division 4 state champion St. Mary’s of Lynn, the Northeast boys take on Southeast (9:30 a.m.) and West (4:30 p.m.) at Wentworth. Dominic Dar (Lowell) and Christian Dunston (Salem) have also impressed coach John Zall.
“I think [Dunston] will be one of the best guards on the North Shore next year in college,” said Zall.
Nicole Viselli (Groveland/Pentucket Regional) and Courtney Walsh (Windham, N.H./Central Catholic) will lead the attack for the Northeast girls, while Maura Buckley (Melrose/Arlington Catholic) is a defensive stopper.
Viselli has a reliable inside-outside scoring touch, while Walsh can convert down low.
“We feel we're going to be a strong defensive team,” said coach Jason Cacciapuoti , whose teams opens against Southeast at Simmons College.