Hawks’ Dawkins soars after beating cancer

Makaela Dawkins

FRONT ROYAL – The thought pops into Makaela Dawkins’ head often when she steps foot on a softball diamond for Skyline High School. Her life could’ve been very different.

When Dawkins was 3 months old, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, the most common form of cancer that affects children in their infancy. Dawkins was far too young to remember her battle with the disease, but she knows her treatment consisted of surgery to remove 15 percent of her liver and didn’t require any rounds of chemotherapy.

Dawkins was declared cancer free when she was about 18 months old and, aside from the surgical scar across her stomach, has had no signs or symptoms of the fight she once had to endure. But it’s impossible for her to forget each time she steps onto the softball field.

“I think about it a lot because I do stuff and it’s just like things could be different if I wasn’t here,” Dawkins said after Skyline’s 7-6 win over Warren County Tuesday night. “Little things that I do, it just makes me and my family proud. They’re always proud of me and they’re always here to support me. It’s just a good feeling.”

And she’s got the support of her teammates.

Each season, Skyline’s softball team dedicates a game to cancer awareness. The Hawks wear pink uniforms and cancer survivors are sometimes honored in a short pre-game ceremony. And each season, Dawkins is one of those survivors honored.

Tuesday night’s contest against the Wildcats was one of those games and before the first pitch was thrown, Dawkins’ teammates presented her with bouquets of flowers and a poster signed by the team.

“These games are huge for me,” Dawkins said afterward.

“To be here, to be playing and having the friends I have and the coaches I’ve had to support me and everything is just great. I went from this kid that was really sick to becoming a good player and I just keep trying to keep playing and do good for my players and coaches.”

For the last two seasons, Dawkins has been the Hawks’ most prolific bat in the lineup. Last season as a sophomore, she belted six home runs and totaled 44 RBIs on her way to being named the Conference 28 Player of the Year. This season, Dawkins has continued that trend.

Dawkins, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for May 3-9, hit three home runs in three games last week to help the Hawks to a pair of victories. Her nine home runs this spring (she hit another in Monday’s win over Millbrook) are tied for Skyline’s single-season record previously set by Sabrie Neeb, a 2012 graduate.

“She’s in a class up there with Sabrie and Taylor Henry and has the ability to go up and play at that next level,” Skyline coach Frank Nelson said, referring to the former Hawks teammates who went on to play Division I college softball. “And she’s matured a lot, which makes a big difference and I hope next year she matures even more and becomes a true leader on the team. A lot of kids say they want to be leaders but they just don’t have it, the quality to be a leader. But she does because the kids follow her.”

The Hawks followed Dawkins’ lead in their first meeting with Warren County on May 4, as the junior hit a pair of home runs in a 12-1 win, a game in which she said the proverbial snowball effect took hold of Skyline’s hitters.

Dawkins added another homer last Thursday, albeit this time in a 6-5 loss to James Wood.

“I just had it going,” Dawkins said. “I don’t know, I just started hitting and then my fielding was good. I was confident. I mean, I’m still confident this week but last week I was just on a roll I guess.”

Nelson said Dawkins’ recent power surge is the result of the junior’s rising maturity level at the plate. Dawkins was aggressively hacking away at changeups early in counts at the beginning of the season, Nelson said, but now she’s showing more patience in the batter’s box.

“She’s becoming more mature as a batter and more mature overall as a player and that’s been a big difference,” Nelson said.

Dawkins is much more than a heavy hitter, however. She’s also the Hawks’ starting shortstop, where she has the combination of fluidity and arm strength in the field to make tough plays appear hardly as such.

And, Nelson says, Dawkins has toughness. She started showing that when she was 3 months old.

“It’s just a good thing to say that yeah, you can beat this and you can be a success,” Nelson said. “Some people think oh my God, it’s the end. But it’s not. I think it’s how you mentally handle it and she’s a tough kid. That’s what you need. You need to be a tough kid. You have to have an ‘I want to win’ attitude.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com