Walt Fitzgerald, who had been a fixture on the Fairfield high school basketball scene for nearly three decades, lost a long battle with brain cancer last night. Most recently the head coach at Fairfield Warde for the past four years, Fitzgerald passed away at 10 p.m.
“He was a great person,” said Dave Schulz, the athletic director at Fairfield Ludlowe and Fitzgerald’s close friend. “He did so much for kids in this town. He always put them first.”
Schulz and Fitzgerald worked together for 23 years, the first six as assistants, the next 17 with Fitzgerald leading Schulz’s staff, first at Fairfield Ludlowe, then at the former consolidated Fairfield High School.
“He was a great assistant coach and a great friend for me,” Schulz said.
Fitzgerald took over the Mustangs four years ago. This past season, with modest talent, he led Warde to a 9-12 mark and a state tournament berth. Several of his colleagues thought Fitzgerald should have been named the FCIAC’s Coach of the Year.
“The coaching fraternity lost a great gentleman, one of the nicest ones in my years of coaching,” said Trinity coach Mike Walsh, who learned of Fitzgerald’s passing through an email Schulz sent out to league coaches. “We’ll miss him.”
I saw Fitzgerald for the last time when Warde played at Stamford High School this past winter on the final day of the regular season. It was obvious that Fitzgerald was laboring to stay on the bench. To those who knew him, it was also obvious he was going to stay with his team unless he was physically incapable.
Though I hadn’t been as close to Fitzgerald in recent years, I knew him well during my nine years as sports editor of the Fairfield Citizen-News before coming to The Advocate. Fitzgerald was a good coach and a better person, someone who was always about his players.
Writing about him in the past tense is painful. Fairfield — Connecticut basketball — suffered a big loss today.