Northwestern coach Fitzgerald talks ‘smiles,’ sportsmanship at Evanston elementary school

Marshall Cohen

Football coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke Wednesday about attitude, sportsmanship and “choosing to have a smile on your face” with 4th and 5th graders at Kingsley Elementary School, 2300 Green Bay Road.

The Northwestern coach, flanked by linebackers Timmy Vernon and Roderick Goodlow as well as defensive end Tyler Scott, spoke at the 5th Ward school as part of its Wellness Wednesdays program.

“The No. 1 way for people to like you is if you smile,” Fitzgerald said. “The second-best way for people to like you is if you have a great attitude because if you don’t smile and you don’t have a great attitude, no one is going to want to be around you.”

He also told the students to maintain a positive attitude amid trying times.

“There are people in this room with some family issues going on back at home – some really tough stuff,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the reality. That’s life. But just because tough stuff happens doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to have a smile on your face.”

Candance Chow, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, helped organize the event. She said Fitzgerald and the NU football players in attendance were inspirational figures for the young elementary school students.

“Coach Fitzgerald is a wonderful role model for our students, especially because he promotes values and academic success in addition to athleticism,” Chow said. “My kindergartener was excited to come to school today, and she barely knows who the Northwestern Wildcats are.”

Fitzgerald talked about his own role models as well.

“When I was your age, I looked up to this guy named Michael Jordan,” Fitzgerald said. “Now we have Derrick Rose.”

Wellness Wednesdays has been an ongoing program at Kingsley to promote health, nutrition and good sportsmanship, Chow said.

Every Wednesday morning, students hear a nutrition fact over the loudspeaker. Parents help organize structured recess activities including yoga and an obstacle course to “give the kids chances to try new things,” Chow added.

Fitzgerald told The Daily after the event that members of the football team were active in about 85 different causes last year and devoted about 1,185 hours of service. He said the team has a responsibility to serve the local community and that NU recruits athletes who “want to be involved and give back.”

“I’m really proud of what our young men do from a standpoint of being involved and giving back to Northwestern, Evanston and the Chicagoland communities,” Fitzgerald said. “You give, but you get so much more back that you almost feel selfish.”

The partnership between Kingsley and the NU football team will continue this spring, said Maureen Palchak, assistant director of marketing and community relations for NU Athletics. Players will return to Kingsley on some Fridays in April to play with students during recess and “continue spreading our positive message,” Palchak said.

Kingsley student Nick, 9, said he was happy to meet the coach and players because he had never attended an NU football game.

“(Fitzgerald) was really caring because he told us how to be respectful of people,” he said.

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