A lot has changed for George and Laurie Watts since 2005, when their daughter, Mackenzie, died at the age of 15 after collapsing at a season-ending team event at the Howell High School pool.
She was a promising swimmer for the Howell girls swimming team, and her parents set out to find ways to honor her memory.
The most public example was the Kenzie Klassic, which was held for the 10th time Saturday at the Parker Middle School pool. It was also the final time they would organize the event, which was a fundraiser for a scholarship fund in Mackenzie’s name, for the swim team and for various cardiac causes.
“We have an endowment now,” George Watts said. “After this event we’ll have enough money to sustain three scholarships forever and will allow us to give money to cardiac-related (causes).”
Among them: A project to fund portable defibrillators at the Fowlerville Fairgrounds this year.
The Kenzie Klassic, traditionally held on the last Saturday in August, has become an early barometer for swimmers and coaches to find out where their teams are after two-plus weeks of workouts.
For Howell, it was a good day. The Highlanders won going away with 240.5 points, well ahead of second-place Canton (173). Pinckney, with 147 points, was fourth among the five teams who participated.
“It’s early in the season, so it’s rough on everyone,” Howell coach Kristyn Textor said. “It’s good for us to see where we are and where we needed to go. We had a lot of kids who were just off a bit (Saturday) from the best times they had last year, so I’m very upbeat about that.”
Pinckney coach Laura Eibler liked what she saw from her team, too.
“I think they did pretty well,” she said. “It’s an early, early meet. Some of the girls swam this summer and some didn’t. I have a lot of freshmen who swam really well today.”
Among the Pirates who excelled were diver Emma Kehn, whose 193.2 points was good for second place and a personal best. Alexa Bloom had Pinckney’s top finish, taking first in the butterfly (1 minute, 2.31 seconds).
For Howell, Kylee Savage won the individual medley and backstroke, while Sophie Montesanti took the 200 and 500 freestyle titles. Both were on Howell’s winning 200 free relay.
“We felt Kenzie was with us, because we swept the 500, and that was her event,” Textor said. “That event always means a lot to her family, and I wanted us to swim well and I was happy to do that.”
“We always swim better in this meet,” Savage said. “We were looking for some great swims this meet and we had some today. It’s even better that we won it.”
After the meet, the team went to the Watts’ home for a picnic. The Watts plan to be involved in future Klassics, but have passed the mantle onto the swim team.
“We’re going to keep it as it is,” Textor said.
George Watts left early, as he has for every Kenzie Klassic, because his emotions were too much for him. Laurie, meanwhile, circulated, smiling, encouraging and rooting.
“There’s happiness and a little sadness, too,” George Watts said, pausing as his voice cracked. “I’ve never been able to stay and watch it, because (swimming) is where Mackenzie excelled. But there’s happiness because we’re celebrating her and what she enjoyed doing. It’s a big day for us. We have the team out to the house afterward to celebrate her life. It’s been a good thing.”