ERIE - Mackenzie Forrest was an undersized player with a big talent and a bigger heart who inspired a number of her fellow Colorado prep basketball players while she played for Lakewood High School.
Known as "Lil Mac," Forrest died in a car accident on March 13, 2016. She was not wearing a seatbelt. Even after her death, Forrest has continued to inspire fellow players, coaches, entire teams and countless other members of the sports community.
Lil Mac's parents, Holger and Denise Forrest, have distributed "Hustle and Heart" remember bands, so that Lil Mac can continue to inspire young athletes not only to give their all on the court but also to be kind to one another and exercise safe driving habits.
"It has been overwhelming to witness the generosity and how she had touched so many people," Holger Forrest said. "You don't realize that because on the surface it's just basketball. But she really influenced a lot of people with her heart. That's the whole message behind 'Hustle and Heart.' It's been great to see how she's been able to help so many other kids who are struggling, whether it's basketball or in school or in life. We've seen more and more people join up with what she was about, and that's others.
"It's very trying for 16- or 17-year-old kids to be in sports and looking at colleges and having boyfriends, to deal with everything. If we can help kids help other kids out with kindness, that's what Mac would have wanted."
Proceeds from the "Hustle and Heart" bands benefit the Gold Crown Enrichment program, which provides interest-based instruction and mentoring for kids aged 10-18. Holger Forrest said that teams, players and others have ordered bands from as far away as Nebraska. Count the Erie girls basketball players among those affected by their limited time spent with Lil Mac and also by her untimely death.
"A lot of my teammates and I have experience playing against her," Erie sophomore Kaitlyn Patterson said. "We just thought that since we all knew her that we could help spread the word and try to make sure that nothing like that ever happens to us. We've had almost everyone wear them every day. It's definitely brought us closer and we just remember that we play for each other."
Along with many of her teammates and friends, Patterson is at that stage in her life when she is getting her license and beginning to plan for her future, like Lil Mac who was planning to play basketball at Regis University and become a lawyer to work as a child advocate. It was Patterson's mother, Candy Patterson, who was initially struck by Lil Mac's story and its many corollaries to the experiences of the current Erie girls basketball players.
"Initially, I saw the story on 9News," Candy Patterson said. "I was sitting there with my daughter, who knew Mac through playing basketball with the school and on club teams. We definitely wanted to order one for Kaitlyn because she's a new driver. Then we decided to order them for the whole basketball team, first and foremost to remember to buckle up but also to be positive through the ups and downs and to take a step back and realize what's really important."
The Tigers' bands arrived last Monday and were distributed to the team. Off to a 4-3 start, the Tigers will be back in action on Jan. 3 when they travel to face Berthoud.
The Tigers have also joined the growing ranks of prep basketball players in Colorado who are lining up to support their fallen colleague. They had plenty to play for before. Now they have a little bit more.