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June 7, 


Dec 22, 2014 - Blog - Yesterday and Today: Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych

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Dec 18, 2014 - Community Advocate - Tournament continues Mark Fidrych’s passion for helping his community and beyond

By Michael Gelbwasser, Contributing Writer  

Northborough – This summer, a softball tournament continuing Mark Fidrych’s commitment to special needs children and adults raised $55,000.

The Mark Fidrych Foundation now is planning its fifth annual Make Your Mark Softball Tournament for Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, at the Memorial and Casey fields on East Main Street, according to Fidrych’s widow, Ann.

Mark Fidrych was “intimately involved with the Michigan Special Olympics,” serving as honorary chair of the Wertz Warriors group for several years, before his April 13, 2009 accidental death at his Northborough home, Ann said.

The Warriors do “ceremonial runs throughout Michigan to collect funds that have been raised during the year for Special Olympics,” Ann explained. They present a check, typically totaling $250,000 to $350,000, to the Michigan Special Olympics Winter Games during the opening ceremonies. The 2010 Winter Games were commemorated to Mark, Ann noted.

About a year after Mark’s death, Ann and their daughter Jessica decided to “try to continue some of the work that he was doing, specifically with special needs children and adults.”

According to its website, the nonprofit Mark Fidrych Foundation’s mission includes “enhancing the lives of children and adults with disabilities and/or special needs through and with a focus on sports and sports education and various other means of promoting, maintaining, improving and creating opportunities and benefits aimed at improving the lives of such individuals.” The foundation officially formed in 2012.

Mark’s interest in helping people with special needs “was a natural. He truly was a natural at connecting with anyone,” Ann said. “He would help anyone, no matter what it was. It could’ve been shoveling their driveway because their snow blower broke down. Whatever happened, he was always there. Someone calling him in the middle of the night because their car rolled into the woods. He’d go and get his chains out and pull them out.”

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was known among baseball fans for pitching for the Detroit Tigers from 1976 to 1980. He was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1976. He also was an American League All-Star that year.

“He was a country boy, and he became a country man who really loved the community he grew up in, and loved people, loved life, and gave back,” his wife said. “He believed in that selfless contribution to the community. We felt that his life was cut short too soon, and we wanted to continue his legacy of giving back to the community.”

The foundation held its first softball tournament in 2011, with the Genesis Fund, which supports “children and adults with congenital abnormalities,” and which Mark supported, Ann said.

“Softball is great because there are a lot of groups that are doing softball that have special needs,” she said.

This year’s Make Your Mark single-elimination softball tournament, held Aug. 23, included 12 teams, each of which was sponsored. Face painting and a balloon artist were among the additional activities offered. A silent auction was new this year, and began during the tournament’s Aug. 16 kickoff at Chet’s Diner, which Jessica operates, Ann said. The tournament raised $55,000 this year, the bulk of which will go to grants.

Foundation leaders have discussed holding a winter fundraiser, such as a bowling or pool event as, Ann noted, Mark enjoyed both sports.

“You want to pull people in, engage the community,” Ann said.  


Dec 12, 2014 Community Advocate Challenger basketball a big hit in Northborough

By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer

(l to r, front, standing) Sean Durkin, Will Corwin, Steve Summers, Will Iverson and (front, sitting,) Ryan Summers pose for a photo at the TD Garden center court with former Boston Celtics star Cedric Maxwell. (Photo/submitted)

Northborough – Basketballs slam against the hardwood floor. Kids yell with approval and clap their hands as a ball swishes through the net. Coaches give instructions, guide, demonstrate and explain. Members of the Northborough Challenger Basketball program follow their directions.  The gym at the Northborough Town Hall is buzzing with activity as parents watch from the bleachers.

At a recent practice, 19 players aged 6 to 20, wearing dark green team shirts, were helped by 19 buddies from the middle and high schools, wearing gray t-shirts with matching logos. The players have varying cognitive and physical disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and a very rare skin condition called junctional epidermolysis bullosa.

The Challenger program runs for six weeks on Tuesday evenings at Town Hall. The younger players play first for 45 minutes, followed by the older youngsters. Nobody worries about the score. Everyone plays at whatever level they can manage.

“The kids love feeling they’re part of a team, and the buddies like to forge the relationships with all the kids,” explained Allie Lane, town recreation director. “We sent out an email to the community and got all 19 buddies in less than six hours and had to turn people away. It’s an amazing program that makes me realize why I do what I do. It just melts your heart to watch them. It’s a win-win for everyone; the parents are so happy.”

Lane started the league after some parents of special needs children approached her about a year ago.

“Their kids were playing baseball in a Challenger League, but they had to travel to Weston and Sturbridge,” she said. “They asked if we could start a Challenger League in Northborough.  I got together with Shrewsbury and Millbury and started a Division 5 Challenger League here.”

The program started with baseball in the spring with 29 players. It was so successful that basketball was added this fall. All funds have been donated by local businesses and the Fidrych Foundation, which raises money so that young people with disabilities have the opportunity to play sports. The five coaches, Jim Furlong, Sean Durkin, Terry Moynihan, Claudia Farrell and Marty Murphy are all volunteers. The game is modified for each child’s needs and is free for the families.

“My involvement in the program started when every time I would get together with the other coaches and reminisce about our glory days of coaching our oldest sons and daughters,” Furlong said. “We could never remember the score of a big game or who scored the most points, but always seemed to remember the player that was not expected to make the catch or shoot the basket. The time a player got his first and only hit or shot into the wrong basket.”

“This is what we always went back to. I have always rooted for the underdog and so I ‘selfishly’ coach to continue filling my memories with the great sports moments ahead,” he added. “I feel so fortunate to be around such great kids!” he added.

Deb Lemieux is the mother of 8-year-old Liam, who is autistic and plays both basketball and baseball. Luke Farrell, a 10 th-grader at Algonquin Regional High School, is Liam’s buddy.

“The program is fantastic,” she said. “It’s very well run. It’s very well organized. Liam looks forward to coming every week to see his buddy Luke.”

Luke’s mother, Claudia Farrell, is also a Challenger League baseball coach.

“It’s nice to see those kids who can’t compete in those leagues be able to play in a less competitive environment,” she said.

Another buddy, Emily Michaeles, who is a senior at Algonquin, added, “I want to give the kids an opportunity to have fun and learn.”

Recently several of the players and buddies, along with their families, attended a Boston Celtics game. The young players were thrilled when they were recognized at center court and got to meet members of the Celtics organization.

The highlight of the season is the final game. Awards and trophies go the team members, and gift certificates are passed out to the buddies.

Anyone who has a child with disabilities from Northborough or neighboring communities is welcome to participate. Information is available at the website under Challenger Program or by calling the Recreation Department at 508-393-5034. 


Dec 6, 2014 T&G - Remembering Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych with donation to T&G Santa


Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych may not have been the most popular player in baseball, though he was one of the most colorful during his brief career, and he remains the all-time favorite in at least one Northboro home. 

Stanley and Theresa Elbe make a generous donation to the Telegram & Gazette Santa Fund every year in Mr. Fidrych's memory. 

"He was our neighbor and our friend. He was like a son to us," Mr. Elbe said. 

They have three children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and they counted Mr. Fidrych as one of the family. 

Mr. Fidrych, was born in 1954 in Worcester and grew up in Northboro, where he played Little League, Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball, then played on the Algonquin Regional High School and Worcester Academy teams. 

The right-hander was drafted by the Tigers in 1975, and was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1976 after going 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA. The lanky, long-haired free spirit graced the covers of "Sports Illustrated" and "Rolling Stone," among other magazines. 

Knee injuries put him on the disabled list the next year, and after five years in the majors, his injuries forced him to retire when he was just 29. 

He returned to Northboro, where he settled on the 107-acre family farm and worked in the trucking industry, married his wife, Ann, and welcomed their daughter, Jessica. 

Mr. Fidrych dedicated his spare time to special needs children, and was active in the Special Olympics, Jimmy Fund and Genesis Fund. 

In 2009, Mr. Fidrych was killed in a freak accident under a 10-wheel dump truck on his farm in Northboro. 

The outpouring of support and sadness led to the establishment of the Mark Fidrych Foundation Inc., which was established in his memory "to enhance the lives of children and adults with special needs or disabilities through sports, sports education and other means." 

An annual "Make Your Mark" softball tournament is held each August in Northboro to benefit the foundation. 

Mr. Elbe said, "Mark was a great guy. We donate every year to the (Telegram &) Gazette Santa in his memory for the children. He'd have liked that."