With six goals in the first eight games this season, senior Matt McDonald was the leading goal scorer on the Lansdale Catholic boys' soccer team.

Already committed to attend and play soccer next year at Messiah College, McDonald, a 2017 all-Catholic League second-team soccer selection, also seems to have his future mapped out nicely.

But, compared to his other activities, McDonald's soccer prowess and college aspirations are just another line on his long list of achievements.

McDonald has been dealing with a hair loss condition called Alopecia areata since he was about 10 years old. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, the ailment is a common autoimmune skin disease that causes hair loss on the scalp and face and sometimes other areas of the body. It affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States and can be seen in both sexes and all ages and ethnic groups. It often first appears during childhood and can be different for everyone.

There are no FDA-approved treatments for the disease. Still, even in this circumstance, McDonald shows a positive outlook and untiring leadership.

"It has allowed me to build thick skin," McDonald said. "I don't have a problem with any part of my body. I actually think it's been a blessing."

McDonald's parents, Mike and Nancy McDonald, call their son an inspiration because "the strength, composure and dignity he shows in the face of adversity has provided a model for all of us to follow," Nancy said. "He is an inspiration to his friends and community by the strong work ethic he follows. He knows what is important and goes right for it. It makes others put things in perspective and drives them to do the right thing on and off the playing field."

McDonald (right) traps a passed ball in a game against Cardinal O’Hara in September.
McDonald (right) traps a passed ball in a game against Cardinal O’Hara in September.

To bring awareness to Alopecia areata, McDonald wanted to raise funds. So, as an eighth grader at Mater Dei Catholic School in Lansdale, he and his parents set up a 5K run to raise money. His first Tortoise and the Hair 5K took place on May 9, 2015, and raised more than $7,600. The run generated more than $5,700 in 2016. The 2017 event was canceled because of scheduling conflicts, but McDonald hopes to resume it next spring.

"It has made a positive impact on my and my family's life," McDonald said of the fundraising effort. "It's something special to see my friends, family and community participate."

McDonald's community sees him as someone special, too, and he was rewarded this summer when he was honored by the U.S. Marine Corps in Washington. Of 6,000 applicants, McDonald was one of 96 students nationwide chosen to be a part of the four-day 2018 Battles Won Academy, where he was honored as a Semper Fidelis All-American.

Students who apply to be a Semper Fidelis All-American must meet a long list of requirements that include being a junior in high school, having a 3.5 or higher grade  point average, being active in community service, playing a competitive team sport, and holding a student or community leadership position. Students must also submit an essay describing the obstacles in their life and how they overcame them.

"Knowing Matt the last two years and hearing the backstories, it's not a surprise to me," said second-year Lansdale Catholic head coach Bill James. "The Semper Fidelis All-American Program picked the absolute right kid. We're all proud of him."

"It meant a lot to be selected," McDonald said. "It was a great honor for me. Everyone bonded together at the camp."

The camp included physical workouts, a visit to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., a community service project, and a tour of the Capitol.

McDonald (third from left), and his sponsor, Laura Haggerty (second from left), participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American Program in July.
Lansdale Catholic
McDonald (third from left), and his sponsor, Laura Haggerty (second from left), participated in the Semper Fidelis All-American Program in July.

At Messiah, which has one of the top programs in the country, McDonald plans to study accounting. Messiah's men's soccer team captured its 11th Division III national championship in 2017.

"What drew me [to Messiah] was the bond that their soccer team has," said McDonald, who is the president of the Athletic Leadership Council and a member of the Interact club at Lansdale Catholic. "The coaches were wonderful to talk to. The faith the school has also played a factor in my decision."