Published in the June 17, 2019 edition.
WAKEFIELD — A talented musician and athlete, Meghan Burnett was the kind of person who lit up a room and made everyone feel good, just by being there. Teachers and coaches loved her. Even when they lost to her team, opposing coaches couldn’t help but respect the passion and joy she brought to the game. As one of her coaches said she was, “That kid with the million-watt smile!”
She was raised in Wakefield and loved all sports but was an avid softball player where she excelled in Little League, Wakefield Memorial High School varsity and on her U18 showcase team. Her plans were to continue her softball career through college as she was set to attend Saint Michael’s College in Vermont in the fall where she would pursue an education degree in teaching.
She was very knowledgeable about the game which enabled her to run pitching clinics and teach private lessons while still in high school. These experiences led her to discover a love and gift for teaching.
She also loved music. As an active student, she was a trumpet section leader in the marching band, played in the Wind Ensemble and also played the viola, was selected as a two-year Diversity Leader, was a member of the National Honor Society, and was also a member of the founding class of the Tri-M Honor Society at WMHS.
She loved to travel and really enjoyed the marching band’s trip to Disney World. Her last spring, she participated in the WMHS Swiss Exchange program, which she referred to as “the best experience of her life.” Many people who knew her didn’t realize that she also loved to skate and was an excellent figure skater.
Meghan always led with her heart so it became clear that the best way to honor her memory would be by continuing her positivity and helping others. This was when friends established the charitable foundation in her name to provide financial assistance to college-bound students and assist the softball and music programs that were so important to her.
The Meghan Burnett Foundation was established in 2018 to honor all that Meghan loved with the stated purpose of enriching the high school experience through sports, music and travel while helping local students discover their own personal potential.
“This tournament was always something she had dreamed of,” said her father Bob Burnett. “Every spring at some point, the question would come up: ‘Why cant we have a softball tournament in Wakefield? We could do it you know…’ and then the conversation would go into different aspects and ways to could make it happen.”
“She was more optimistic about it than the adults around her, but when she left us, it became clear what we needed to do.”
Coaches and friends got together and immediately began planning a memorial tournament. Within two months, in August of 2018, the town of Wakefield hosted its first ever fast pitch softball tournament – the first annual Meghan Burnett “Fly High” Tournament. In recognition of her love for music, the organizers have been sure to incorporate a musical presence into this tournament. Since that time, it has become an official tournament, sanctioned (and supported) by USA Softball with a tournament to be held annually on the last weekend of June.
In 11 days, 16 teams will be coming to Wakefield to play in this tournament. Some of these players knew her and some did not but all of them know her story and that their participation in this tournament will be helping others while also perpetuating Meghan’s memory and the positivity that she brought.
In less than a year of existence, the Meghan Burnett Foundation has already begun achieving their original goal to help college-bound students with expenses as well as finding ways to enrich the programs that meant so much to Meghan in her life.
Since hosting the first softball tournament last August, the foundation has been doing the following:
· Scheduled the 2019 tournament (June 28,29 and 30, 2019).
· Awarded a Scholarship to Brooke Lamothe of Tewksbury who played in the Tournament last August. The foundation will continue to award a scholarship to a graduating senior every year.
· Established a permanent scholarship fund in Meghan’s name with The Scholarship Foundation, that will be awarded to a student annually beginning this month.
· Supported other scholarship funds memorializing other Wakefield graduates who passed away in their first year after graduation.
· Established an Annual Instrument Fellowship that will enable selected student-musicians to upgrade their instrument to a level they would otherwise have not been able to do. (The first of these was awarded to Bianca Zanni at the Spring Concert)
· Last fall, the foundation made the first of what will be an annual donation to the Foreign Exchange program at Wakefield Memorial High School. This is to help increase affordability for participants and/or families.
· Sent the Wakefield Memorial High School Softball varsity captains to the World Softball Coaches Convention last January. The foundation will do it again every year but will include the coaches starting next year.
· Donated cold-weather athletic wear to the softball team at St. Michaels College.
· Provided a secure storage box with new equipment for Wakefield Little League Softball, as well as continually working on Doyle Field to improve the only field that the farm league softball has to play on.
· Sponsored a high-level softball clinic for the high school team in April with nationally known Throwing Specialist and Trainer Austin Wasserman.
· This past winter and spring, the foundation was actively working on the establishment of a softball field for the WMHS varsity team (as well as youth sports) on the campus of WMHS. Together, with the varsity softball captains, the foundation garnered the full support of the school committee and Town Council which, along with a great turnout by the voters who were supporting the idea, led to a successful vote in Town Meeting to fund the work for the field.
· St. Michael’s College Softball team “reserved” Meghan’s number and had her shirt hanging in the dugout for the 2019 season.
· The Red Sox provided a pair of tickets and an autographed baseball for a fund raising raffle in addition to their generous cash donation last summer. They will be providing another item for raffle or silent auction at the tournament.
The Meghan Burnett Foundation has gained plenty momentum since last year and they plan to keep moving forward with fundraising and providing assistance and opportunities to students in our community.
The foundation would like to thank the people and businesses of Wakefield for their unwavering support as this has been key to the establishment of the Meghan Burnett Foundation and enabling them to pay it forward.
The Fly High Softball Tournament games will be played in Wakefield at Vets field and Mapleway and in Stoneham at Stoneham High School.
On Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30 there will be concessions at the Wakefield fields all day.
The Star Spangled Banner before the first game at Vets goes on about 5:45 p.m. on Friday night (June 28) with the Wakefield U18 team playing at Vets and the Wakefield U14 team playing at Mapleway.
The Championship games will be 2 p.m. at Vets (U18) and Stoneham High (U14).
This is a great opportunity to come down and see some competitive fast pitch softball played. There are still opportunities to participate in the tournament for all who are interested. Please visit www.MeghanBurnettFoundation.org for sign-up opportunities and more information on the tournament and the organization.