The legacy of Ucal McKenzie lives on.
Laughter and cheers echoed around the Winsor School’s turf field Friday as kids age 8-18 engaged in soccer drills at the Ucal Mckenzie Breakaway soccer camp. While being coached by collegiate and professional players, they performed passing and dribbling drills through gates to improve communication and footwork.
Named for and dedicated to the former Newton North boys’ varsity soccer coach and guidance counselor who suffered cardiac arrest and died in 2009 at age 32, the foundation aims to keep his memory and love of soccer alive.
Suzanne McKenzie created the foundation to honor her late husband and has seen it grow exponentially over the past decade.
“This year we had about 100 kids register,” said McKenzie on Friday. “What we are doing and all the hard work we are putting into the content and the level of content is being received well.”
The camp has grown to the point that it attracted Kristine Lilly, who played in three Olympics and five World Cups. Lilly ran a special session and rotated through drills with the kids on Thursday.
“It was a fun day for me,” said Lilly in a phone interview. “Anytime you give kids attention and a place to play the game, there is a lot of excitement.”
The Breakaway Foundation camp is unique because it does not focus solely on soccer — learning about mental and physical health garners equal importance. There are CPR training classes, concussion experts, and mental health professionals who meet with the kids.
“The families and the parents love it because it’s an extra level of on and off the field knowledge that they can bring home with them,” McKenzie said. “The kids end up loving it too . . . we are making it fun and engaging enough for them to make it memorable.”
For Lilly, the inclusion of mental health education differentiates Breakaway camp from others.
“A lot of people now are bringing mental health to light more and we are having more discussions . . . that’s a positive thing,” she said. “I think it is a great element and it is a little bit different then some other camps that I run.”
McKenzie’s goal is to create a new wave of camps for young athletes at an affordable cost. The soccer camp has already expanded into Hartford, with plans for Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I think youth sports have become out of control . . . it’s something I want to disrupt with the model that we built,’’ said McKenzie. “Quality should not be compromised for the price point we are offering.”
Dylan Foran has coached at Breakaway camp for six years, and has witnessed the program’s growth first-hand.
“It’s definitely gone up numbers-wise,” he said. “This camp and this program are great just because of the people who help run it.
“It’s also not so much about soccer skills, but really just about growing the game and getting kids involved and how it can be good to be in this team environment.”
A first generation immigrant from Jamaica, McKenzie connected with the city of Boston, first during his playing days at Suffolk and then while coaching Cambridge Rindge & Latin before moving to Newton North. .
“The reason we are able to do this is because of what he was already doing,” said Suzanne. “He was so great with the kids and they all loved him.
“I think he would be happy about what we have done. I wish he was here to be doing the work himself.”
Khalin Kapoor can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @khalinkapoor.