This article was previously published and is being featured as one of many of our top stories for 2023.
By Ryan Yousefi
Jackie McKenna has been up to big things since ruling the diamond as a member of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School softball team.
A 2018 graduate, McKenna is heading into her senior softball season at the University of Mississippi. She’s also looking to put the cherry on top of a collegiate career that’s featured her receiving a slew of accolades, including being named a 2022 NFCA All-America Scholar-Athlete, member of the SEC Honor Roll each year from 2019-2022, and receiving the 2020-21 MSU Dowsing-Bell Perseverance Award.
With so much to be proud of and to look forward to entering her final year on a collegiate diamond, one would think things couldn’t get much better for McKenna.
That was until a February 9 season opener in Boca Raton against the hometown FAU Owls appeared on the Bulldogs’ schedule.
“The first game of my final season being at Florida Atlantic University is a fitting way to end my college career,” McKenna told Parkland Talk.
“Being as Boca is just 15 minutes from Parkland, it gives my family and friends a chance to watch me play locally and allows younger softball players in the area to look up to our team as a role model. It’s a special opportunity that I am very excited about.”
According to McKenna, her success juggling academic and athletic responsibilities is partly attributed to her growing up in Parkland.
“Parkland has played a significant role in shaping who I am today,” said McKenna, adding that the close-knit community, along with access to great facilities and a supportive coach, has allowed her to flourish.
“Coming from a small town like Parkland, where everyone knows each other, I’ve felt right at home in Starkville, Mississippi, where MSU is located.”
Only months after finishing her career at MSU and obtaining her master’s degree in workforce leadership to go along with her degree in criminology, McKenna says she’s looking forward to new challenges in life, both on and off the softball field.
“After graduation, I have plans to continue playing softball for a few years, potentially as a Director of Softball Operations for a college or university,” McKenna said.
“In the long term, I plan to use my degree to secure a position as an intelligence analyst in a law enforcement agency.
Before diving into what the future holds, McKenna hopes to take care of unfinished business this season as the Bulldogs look to avenge coming just two games short of the Women’s College World Series last season.
An appearance in the tournament would be the school’s first-ever and the perfect cap to an illustrious college career that saw its seed planted right here in Parkland, just miles from where the end of it will begin.
“Being an athlete has taught me how to manage my time and how to work in a team setting which will help me when I enter the real world,” McKenna said.
As the fifth anniversary of the MSD shooting approaches, McKenna, who was in her senior year, said it’s extra special to be heading home to play in her old stomping grounds, especially just days before a reminder of what her brother Chris, her classmates, and herself endured that fateful day.
McKenna has kept the victims close to her heart her entire time away, including while competing on the diamond.
“Ever since that tragic day, I’ve made it a priority to honor those we lost, McKenna said.
Each anniversary has been sad and emotional, and she has also realized how lucky she and her brother were to make it home safely. She honors the 17 victims with a customized glove she wears every season that says MSD 17.
“It’s very important to me not to forget where I came from and how Parkland has been affected since then. It’s amazing to see how strong our community is still to this day.”
- Ryan Yousefi has lived in Coral Springs for over 30 years. He has worked as a writer for multiples outlets over the years, including the Miami New Times where he has covered sports and culture since 2013. He holds a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree in Business Healthcare Management from Western Governors University.
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