By Phil Stacey
---- — BEVERLY — Kendel Davy, Jack Morency and Joey Kozlowski haven’t had to practice their presentation for this weekend’s state DECA competition at the Marriott in Boston all that much.
The three Beverly High student-athletes know their story by heart — and it most certainly comes from the heart.
Davy, a junior cheerleader and hurdler for the Panthers, along with seniors Morency, a football captain and four-year hockey defenseman, and Kozlowski, also a football captain and baseball player, will be speaking about 6-year-old Riley Fessenden. The Beverly resident and first grader at the Ayers Ryal Side Elementary School was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Esthesioneuroblastoma last spring, and the city has rallied around her.
“All three of them have become very emotionally attached to Riley,” said Kristen Marescalchi, head of Beverly High’s DECA program. “It’s amazing. They’re not doing this as a project anymore; they’re doing it because it’s what you should do. They’re doing whatever they can to help make Riley happy, healthy and comfortable.
“It’s been the best community service project we’ve ever had at Beverly High — and we’ve had some very good ones.”
Davy, Morency and Kozlowski qualified for states at a DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) regional qualifier. Should they finish in the top five this weekend, they’d get the chance to compete at DECA Nationals in Atlanta next month.
“The three of us, when we were first going over the project and working on our presentation, we overthought everything,” admitted the 17-year-old Morency. “But when we got there and got everything ready to go, it just came to us.
“This isn’t something we have to memorize; we see Riley all the time and know her like the back of our hands. She’s a huge part of our lives now. We just speak from the heart.”
‘What we had to do’
Davy coaches cheering for the Beverly Gladiators of the Northeastern Conference Youth Football League; that’s how she met Riley and her older sister Meghan, cheerleaders for the Beverly Titans (grades 1 and 2), football team. The Titans raised close to $18,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and that’s where Davy got an idea: she could do something similar in her high school cheering competitions as a way to introduce the Riley Rocks campaign and raise money for it.
The first one was held at the Beverly Invitational back on Oct. 20. “I basically walked out and gave an announcement to the crowd that we were doing this, challenging coaches and other cheering captains to raise money for Riley’s family,” said Davy. Hoping to raise $500 that day, they ended up gathering over $700.
“After our competition, Riley told her mom she can’t wait to be a Beverly varsity cheerleader. That made me feel so good,” said Davy. “She’s six and changes my perspective on things with how amazing she is.”
Word started to spread from that point on. Other schools contacted Davy to see how they could also hold fundraisers at their own cheering invitationals. Ipswich High donated $2,000 from its ‘Cheer for a Cure’ competition; Marblehead and Lynnfield both held bake sales during their football games to raise money; and other area high schools such as Danvers, Hamilton-Wenham and Masconomet also donated money to Riley Rocks, totalling $11,000.
“There was a dad from Masconomet who won the 50/50 from our Invitational and donated it back,” said Davy. “Then at the Masconomet Invitational, he won the 50/50 again — and donated it back to Riley Rocks again.”
Each year, Marescalchi has a group of her students do a community service campaign called ‘BHS DECA Cares.’ It’s how Davy, Morency and Kozlowski began their project on Riley.
DECA’s website says its mission is to “prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.” It’s an apt description for these three Beverly High philanthropists.
“We wanted it to be football players and cheerleaders doing good things and setting a good example, letting younger kids know these are the kind of things the ‘cool’ kids are doing,” said Marescalchi.
Morency, who joined the school’s DECA program as a junior, said the decision to make their project about Riley this year was an easy choice.
“Kendel thought it would be a great idea to help raise money and awareness for her,” said Morency, “and once Joey and I met her, we were 100 percent in. That was it, what we had to do.
“It’s taken over a large part of our lives. It’s really been unexpected; not only have we been able to raise money and awareness for the family, but we’ve become very close with them, too.”
All for Riley
Radiation has been able to shrink Riley’s tumors so that she is more comfortable, said Marescalchi. And she lights up whenever she’s with any of these three DECA students.
“Riley is unbelievable,” said Davy, who has gone to Dana Farber with the Fessenden’s for Riley’s treatments. “She’s six and has a ton of toys she’s gotten from people, but she wanted to donate her toys back to (Dana Farber). She texts all three of us and asks us to come over and play — so we do. And she loves sending the boys prank phone calls.”
“It makes us feel good,” added Morency, the oldest of John and Mary Morency’s three sons. “We’re doing something to help and trying to take the family’s minds off of it and make things better. And besides, Riley is too adorable to say no too when she asks us something.”
Morency said that Riley’s older brother Drew is a “huge” fan of the Beverly High hockey team and had a chance to go in the locker room and talk to the team before their recent playoff game against Danvers. “He gave us a pep talk and it was great,” he said.
Marescalchi says this community service project long ago stopped being ‘merely’ for DECA; everything that Davy, Morency and Kozlowski do is for Riley.
“Working with Riley,” Morency said before pausing, “this little girl has done so much for us and the entire city of Beverly, how they’ve stepped up and helped her family. It’s really opened my eyes to cherish every moment you have.”