Wildwood Graduation

Class Valedictorian Maddie McCracken delivers her address. Wildwood High School held their 113th commencement ceremony Thursday June 13, 2019, in the school’s Stanley M. Hornstine Auditorium.

WILDWOOD — Maddie McCracken is synonymous with Wildwood High School, having graduated in 2019 as the class valedictorian and one of the greatest athletes in school history.

She finished her Warriors basketball career with 2,001 points and led the girls team to two South Jersey Group I appearances (2017 and 2019) and a Tri-County Classic Division title. Wildwood captured the sectional title in 2017.

But there is more to her than athletic accolades and accomplishments.

In April 2019, McCracken started a nonprofit organization called The Step Back Foundation, which aims to motivate, inspire and provide financial support to youth athletes to participate in high school sports.

The 19-year-old from North Wildwood said she was inspired by those who have helped her during her athletic and academic careers and wanted to give back to the community.

“I love bringing the community together,” said McCracken, who organized her second annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament July 11-12 at Albert Allen Memorial Park in North Wildwood.

McCracken’s foundation will hold its second annual Live Like Bolle 5K beach run at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. The race, which starts and finishes on 16th Street, is named after Bill Bolle, who died at 54 in October 2017. Bolle served the Wildwoods community for years and was particularly linked to its basketball scene. There will also be a 1-mile walk.

“I love seeing how many people come out and support me in these events. I love being able to help people and seeing how appreciative people are,” said McCracken, who played basketball this past winter at Stockton University after transferring from Widener in January.

McCracken averaged 6.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 rebounds in 14 games for the Ospreys.

“I love working with people. I like making others feel worthy. I don’t ever want anyone to feel they are not as important or not as special or don’t deserve nice things. Everybody is equal, and I feel like I get to work with that and do that a lot with the Step Back.”

The money raised in these events goes toward new sports equipment or other sports expenses that some families cannot afford. The average household in Wildwood makes $25,000 per year, McCracken said.

The Step Back Foundation also gives out scholarships to eighth grade students in Cape May County who intend to compete in high school athletics.

“Growing up in Wildwood, sometimes it was tough to see a lot of the kids I went to school with not have as much as I did. I’m very fortunate. My family never struggled financially,” said McCracken, whose father, Scott, coaches the high school’s boys basketball team.

Maddie McCracken, who holds the school record in spring track for the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, said she sometimes would see other athletes in the same clothes or wearing the wrong type of sneakers at track or basketball practice.

“It’s sad to see that, and they never complained,” said McCracken, who also was a standout soccer player at Wildwood. “There were never any complaints, but it broke my heart.”

The Step Back Foundation has received donations from many local businesses in Wildwood, including Keenan’s Irish Pub, where both McCracken and her sister Mack, 22, work, Poppi’s Brick Oven Pizza, the Ice House, Anglesea Pub, the Jellyfish Cafe and Alfe’s Restaurant.

Other sponsors include the Lobster House in Cape May and the Windrift in Stone Harbor. And all the local support helps make the Step Back Foundation possible.

“I think it is a wonderful thing that Maddie has created,” said Wildwood girls basketball coach Teresa Cunniff, whose son Brian, 13, helped out with the 3-on-3 tournament last summer.

“The proceeds that she makes by running her events helps future student athletes out when purchasing equipment that they will need in their respective sports,” Cunniff said. “Maddie is a great role model, and these kids in our community really look up to her and are lucky to have her.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, McCracken said, it was more difficult this summer to organize events. But the City of Wildwood helped her out a lot with space and insurance fees. Fallen Hero Polar Bear Plunge president and family friend Dennis Dool provided great assistance, she said.

McCracken also thanked her father, mother Liz, and sisters, Mack and Macie, 13, for their help in the organization, which “sometimes goes unnoticed,” Maddie said.

“The feeling of helping people is such a nice feeling, and it’s not something you can just get all the time,” Maddie said. “It’s a rare feeling, and it’s awesome. It’s such a cool experience.”