By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Maddie McCracken will graduate from Wildwood High School next month, leaving as one of the top female athletes in school history.
There have been a ton of accomplishments in basketball – scoring 2,001 career points, winning a South Jersey championship, playing in another South Jersey title game, helping the team win a Tri-County Classic Division title.
She also scored 43 career goals in soccer despite missing her senior season through injury. And she’s been one of the best distance runners the school has ever produced in spring track, holding school record times in the 1600- and 3200-meter runs.
So there’s no question McCracken will leave behind a legacy of athletic accomplishments when she walks out the doors of Wildwood High School for the final time in mid June.
But she wants to do more.
Inspired by the many people who have helped her during her athletic, academic and social journey toward young adulthood, McCracken is already giving back to the Wildwoods community.
The 18-year-old has begun a non-profit organization, The Step Back Foundation, which, according to its website, “promotes not only high school athletics, but giving back to our community as well.”
McCracken will continue playing basketball at the college level at Division III Widener University, where she, at this point, plans to study biology. But despite having four years of college basketball in front of her, she knows she’s much closer to the end of her athletic career than she is to the beginning. The Step Back Foundation is a way for her to help the local community while also staying involved in athletics.
“The athletic achievements are only going to take you so far,” said McCracken, a resident of North Wildwood. “I’ve played basketball basically my entire life but at some point I’ll have to do something else. Sports have really benefitted me and I just wanted to help people, too.”
McCracken said The Step Back Foundation’s goal is to “help kids in the Wildwood area who struggle financially. Not just high school kids, but any local student.”
That help will be athletically based, McCracken said. The plan is to aid financially challenged youth obtain the tools necessary to pursue athletic opportunities.
“It’s for if a kid needs shoes for basketball, or cleats or something like that,” she said.
Wildwood High School principal Phil Schaffer beamed when asked about McCracken’s efforts. But he also isn’t surprised, either.
“It’s obviously nice to see,” Schaffer said. “There have been a lot of people in this school district and this community that have given her opportunities through academics or have helped her shape her athletic career, and in trying to give back to kids shows tremendous character on her part. For an 18-year-old to recognize the demographic differences in some of her peers and try to help them and be authentic about that speaks volumes for her.
“I really hope this thing takes off. This has a chance to impact a lot of people. Kids have looked up to her as a basketball player and now they get to see that they can look up to her as a person. It’s not just Maddie from the basketball court.”
McCracken said The Step Back Foundation has already received numerous contributions from local businesses and private donors, including the Lunch With Lynch Foundation, run by the tireless John Lynch. Two fundraisers are scheduled for this summer – a three-on-three basketball tournament in July and a 5K beach run in August.
“People are already donating,” McCracken said. “A lot of local businesses have reached out. Mr. Lynch has already helped. A lot of people are already supporting us.”
McCracken has had lots of help getting The Step Back Foundation started. She cited her parents, Scott and Liz, and sisters, Mackenzie and Macie, as helping immensely in the organizational efforts. She said she’s also received strong support from the North Wildwood Recreation Department, the teachers and staff at Wildwood High School and many others.
“Everybody’s pitching in,” she said.
In addition to the basketball tournament and 5K run this summer, McCracken said the foundation plans to hold youth basketball clinics for young players. She said many current high school players on the island have already volunteered to help with the endeavor.
McCracken will leave for Widener in late August. That won’t stop her from thinking about her hometown community and ways to help the kids in it through the foundation.
“I don’t think it’ll be easy but at the same time I like the challenge,” she said. “It’ll keep me busy. I’ll keep working on it as much as I can.”
For further information on The Step Back Foundation, log on to its website at www.thestepbackfoundation.com.