Mike DeDonato may be one of Chelmsford High’s smaller athletes, but he is a big-impact player in the games of baseball, hockey, and life.
The rising senior has earned Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star honors twice for baseball and once for hockey, while contributing more than 60 hours of community service as a member of the Chelmsford High School National Honor Society, and earning a coveted scholarship in this summer’s Bay State Games.
At 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, DeDonato — who has spent his summer playing for North Chelmsford Post 313 of the American Legion — is surprisingly strong with the bat and hockey stick.
“He looks like he’s small, but he brings an awful lot to the table each game,” said Chelmsford High baseball coach Mike O’Keefe. “He can beat you physically, and most people wouldn’t think that, but he can pop one out of there.”
And believe it or not, just a little more than a year ago, DeDonato was 5 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter . . . a growth spurt that shocked Chelmsford High hockey coach Mike McGrath, who witnessed a young man become a skater with much more poise last winter.
“He’s gained so much experience and confidence by getting bigger and working out more,” the coach said. “Everything he was doing was noticeably better.”
After a quiet sophomore season, in which he had no goals and one assist, the left wing found himself on the second line last winter and scored 14 goals and 10 assists.
To accompany his MVC honor, DeDonato also earned the team’s most improved player award. “On the ice, I definitely wasn’t nearly as easy to knock over as I used to be,” said DeDonato, who turned 17 last Monday.
“My sophomore year I would just get pushed around because I was the little guy. [Last season] I was a lot stronger on my feet, I controlled the puck easier, and my shot got a lot better because I was stronger.”
About half a year before winning his hockey team’s most improved player award, he earned the same title on his baseball team, a feat that O’Keefe would have thought highly unlikely at the beginning of the season.
“To be brutally honest, when he was a sophomore, I really didn’t think he was going to be on our team,” he said. “I thought he would be a kid who would play in his junior and senior year — you know, he’s always been pretty good — but I thought he was a little bit undersized.”
The second baseman went on to help carry his team to a conference championship, and earn his first MVC All-Star selection.
This past spring, he again had success, batting .333 with eight extra base hits, 25 runs, and 22 RBIs.
The Lions were co-conference champions with Central Catholic, and at the end of the season, DeDonato was unanimously voted as the only senior captain ofor next year.
Matt Rabbito, a reigning captain who graduated in the spring and also plays for Post 313, has played with DeDonato for about eight years, and he believes DeDonato is perfect for the role.
“He’s a dirt dog,” said Rabbito, a catcher who will play for Southern New Hampshire next year. “He works hard, he’s always running around trying to make plays, he hits well, throws well, just does everything right on a baseball field.’’
While his athletics consume much of his schedule, DeDonato also works in the community with his parents, David Sr. and Karen, his two sisters, Kelli and Lisa, and his brother David Jr., a rising sophomore at UNH who plays for the Wildcats club hockey team.
Since DeDonato was in eighth grade, he and his family have raised money and participated in cancer walks such as the Lowell General Hospital TeamWalk for CancerCare and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, which takes place along the Charles River.
DeDonato also is an active member of St. Mary’s Church in Chelmsford, partaking in activities such as raking leaves for the elderly.
He says everyone in his family has been community-oriented. “They kind of just set an example for all of us to keep doing this type of stuff because it’s good to always give back.”
While browsing online in the spring, DeDonato’s father stumbled upon the Future Leaders Scholarship, which would be awarded at the Bay State Games, and felt that his son had all of the necessary credentials to apply.
DeDonato, who was a member of the bronze medal-winning Northeast squad, was one of six winners of the $2,000 scholarship, which is given to athletes who have a strong resume of academics, athletics, community services, and leadership qualities.
With the stress behind him, DeDonato has settled into the relaxing atmosphere of Legion ball during the summer.
His North Chelmsford team has struggled, ending the regular season with a 7-13 record, which can be largely attributed to commitment issues. But manager Dan Ruggiero has no issues with DeDonato’s team participation.
“I can depend on him; he’s always here,” said the first-year Post 313 manager.
The season’s end is nearing for North Chelmsford, which, as of Friday was still alive in the District 5 Chairman’s cup — the consolation bracket for teams that don’t make the sectional playoffs.
Once it’s over, DeDonato will flip the switch and transition into hockey mode, as he readies himself to compete for the Boston Junior Bruins in the fall.