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Late Hub pol’s youth work to be honored

Kirsten Carlson
Late Hub pol’s youth work to be honored
During and after his career in public service, former state Rep. Kevin W. Fitzgerald devoted himself to giving inner-city kids increased opportunities through athletics. (Photo: Sport in Society)

A champion of Boston’s inner-city kids will be honored next month, appropriately enough, at the home of the reigning NBA champions.

Friends, family and many of the countless people who Kevin W. Fitzgerald touched during his nearly 30 years of public service will congregate at TD Banknorth Garden on Oct. 2 to pay tribute to the man who made it his mission to help others. Fitzgerald’s life was cut short by cancer on Oct. 1, 2007. He was 57.

Fitzgerald’s interests in both youth sports and public service developed at a young age. The Mission Hill product attended Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire on a basketball scholarship. After graduation, he returned to Boston and was elected as a Democrat to the state House of Representatives in 1975. He was just 23. Fitzgerald would serve there for 28 years, rising to the post of majority whip and later serving as the House Sergeant at Arms.

In 1997, Fitzgerald co-founded Urban Youth Sports, aiming to use athletics to give children in the inner city the opportunity to become healthier, more active and more engaged. Based at Sport in Society, a Northeastern University center that uses sports to create social change, the program provides children between the ages of 6 and 18 not only with an array of sports to participate in, but also with leadership training to help them grow off the field as well.

The program’s impact has been significant: Since its 1997 inception, Urban Youth Sports has reached 20,000 inner-city kids in Boston. In 2008, following Fitzgerald’s passing, Urban Youth Sports was renamed Kevin W. Fitzgerald Urban Youth Sports, or FitzUYS, for short.

Linda Keefe, the program’s executive director, co-founded the program with Fitzgerald and Art Taylor. She said Fitzgerald’s belief in the difference that sports can make in children’s lives came from his experiences playing basketball growing up. He learned the importance of teamwork, leadership, exercise and so many other things on the hardwood.

“He realized the inherent value that sports and physical activity have [for] children,” Keefe said. “He truly believed in the children of this city. He believed they are the future.”

After they established Urban Youth Sports, Keefe said, Fitzgerald worked tirelessly to expand it to help as many kids as possible.

“There was nowhere he would not go,” she said. “There was no community meeting he would not go to [in order] to get this off the ground.”

Fitzgerald battled cancer for more than a year. Keefe recalled that the last time she saw him, despite being quite frail, he was trying to find a place to live for someone in need, and asking how Urban Youth Sports was going.

“He was such a presence,” Keefe said. “He made such a difference in peoples’ lives.”

That difference was evident in two celebrations of Fitzgerald’s career — in November 2006, when 1,000 people turned out for the rededication of Mission Hill’s Puddingstone Park as Kevin W. Fitzgerald Park, and last October, at his funeral, when 7,000 people of all backgrounds, races and income levels showed up to pay their respects.

Keefe’s daughter, Stephanie Martin, created a Web site where friends of Fitzgerald could share their stories about him. The tales that came in have since been turned into a book that will be given out at the Oct. 2 tribute to Fitzgerald at the Garden.

The tribute event will feature several speakers. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a longtime friend, will serve as honorary chair, and Peter Meade, former vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield and a dear friend of Fitzgerald, will emcee. Fitzgerald’s son John will close the night.

According to Keefe, the event’s setting — the TD Banknorth Garden, home of the NBA champion Boston Celtics — is perfect.

“It’s so apropos,” Keefe said. “He loved basketball and used to talk about being in the Garden. Any Celtic, he loved. There is no better place to honor him.”

And perhaps no better way than by continuing his mission to help others. The event doubles as a fundraiser for the Kevin W. Fitzgerald Giving Back Fund to benefit Fitz­UYS.

“The goal is to raise money so we can sustain and expand this program to as many children as possible,” Keefe said. “That would truly honor his legacy.”

The tribute will take place from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2. Tickets are $100 each and are available at Northeastern University and through Ticketmaster. For more information, visit www.sportinsociety.org/uys.