Senior Jack McKenzie has been, in the words of head coach Rich Hoffman, the poster boy for the Western Reserve Academy baseball team this year as a banner bearing McKenzie's likeness hangs in the Murdough Athletic Center.
McKenzie will now have a permanent home in the MAC after earning a Gold Medal -- Western Reserve Academy's highest athletic honor -- in baseball at the school's spring athletic awards ceremony.
He is the 12th baseball player to earn the award and the 275th recipient since the award was established in the 1950-51 academic year.
"I feel humbled because in my four years of playing baseball here, winning an award was not something I strove for -- I just wanted to work hard and do my best," McKenzie said. "I look at it as a reward for all the hard work I put in, not just at Reserve but in all the summers leading up to my time at WRA."
McKenzie batted .396 this season (and hit .395 over his final three years at WRA) and was even better with runners in scoring position, batting .421. In addition to his offense, he was a stellar presence on defense at shortstop, second base and center field.
"After I learned that Jack played a great deal of center field last summer, I played him at times as our center fielder," Hoffman said. "When I asked him, prior to his final game in a Pioneer uniform, which position he would like to play, Jack chose the outfield spot. It was clear that Jack was having a lot of fun patrolling the center-field acreage and he did a stellar job when called upon to play that important position.
"I inserted Jack into our starting lineup early in his freshman season and as a sophomore, he was thrust into a major role hitting near the top of the batting order, a place where he has been a mainstay ever since. One could argue that it was Jack's performance as our leadoff hitter that proved most valuable to our team this year.
"Jack is the most complete and best all-around baseball player we have graduated since our last Gold Medal winner, Joe Dempsey [a 2003 WRA graduate]."
In addition to baseball, McKenzie was a four-year member of the boys soccer team, and the opportunity to play more than one sport made for a special experience.
"I enjoyed playing more than one sport," McKenzie said. "That is a special part of Reserve. Not only do we spend time with our team at practices and games, but we see each other in the classroom as well. Because of that, when the team accomplishes something, it is more enjoyable.
"The players on the soccer and baseball teams were a different group of people, so I was able to make a different group of friends through both sports.
"Because we are so busy with school and athletics, you are forced to learn how to manage your time. Athletically, we have a specific amount of time to practice and that has taught me to maximize the work I put in during practices. In general, the coaches and the school teach you to make the most of your time."
While he had opportunities to continue his baseball career in college at the Division III level, McKenzie made the choice to attend Wake Forest University [N.C.] for academic, rather than athletic, reasons.
"I chose to go to Wake not because of baseball, but because it is the best fit for me," he said. "They are a Division I school in athletics, so it will be cool to be a part of that. If I could continue to play club soccer and club baseball, that would be a nice continuation of my Reserve experience. For right now, though, I'm just going to be a student and a fan, but I'll keep the option open of possibly trying out for the baseball team."
As McKenzie prepares to move to the next stage of his life, he took the time to thank Hoffman and his parents, John and Susan (an English teacher at WRA), for helping him get to where he is today.
"Coach Hoffman did a lot for me, especially during the recruiting process as he talked a lot with the college coaches," McKenzie said. "I also want to thank Reserve because it has taught me that you can get a lot out of athletics. Finally, I want to thank my parents for driving me countless hours for years for my travel baseball teams."