Tricia Fitzgerald, Principal, Woodbridge Township School District, Port Reading #9
Background note: In October 2010, Rutgers University football star and Woodbridge native, Eric LeGrand, sustained a spinal cord injury at his C3 and C4 vertebrae during a fourth quarter play at MetLife Stadium. The injury left him paralyzed. While the initial prognosis was grim, Eric demonstrated his titan strength by shattering all expectations for his recovery and rehabilitation. This special interview in our series features Principal Tricia Fitzgerald who has been committed to continuing Eric LeGrand’s legacy in the very community from which he came.
When I was department head at Colonia High School, we had a student, Eric LeGrand. I ran freshman orientation, and I met him there. The football coach had mentioned that he was a really good football player. But he and his friends, they were great kids. They were fun to talk to, and you just wanted the best for them.
Coach Lasala had started a homework night for the football players, two nights a week, just to help them all to stay on track academically. I helped Coach Lasala do that. Eric was getting recruited early while he was at high school.
When he went to Rutgers, we were all following him. I was there the day of the signing. I was so proud d of him. When he went to Rutgers, we were so excited that our local kid was going to a local college.
9 years ago, on October 16th, he was playing at the Meadowlands. At the time, I was driving to Pennsylvania to see a friend, and as I was driving, my phone kept getting texts. I get to a red light and I looked, and there is this one text that said, ‘Call me.’ They were all like that. So I pulled over and I called and I found out that he had gotten this horrible injury, and they weren’t sure what was going to happen. That was so hard, because he and I were so close. He was like one of my kids. All the high school kids looked up to him because he had gotten a scholarship, and he took that responsibility very seriously.
We didn’t know what to do, so Coach Lasala and I decided that first year we would have a walk for Eric at Colonia High School. We called it “The Walk to Believe.” We did that for a couple of years at Colonia, and then they started doing one at Rutgers, so we started to support that walk.
I was at the walk last June, and I noticed there were not that many people there that I knew, except for his group of friends. I then realized, Eric is a local guy, but the walk is in New Brunswick, so it is hard for our families to get there to show support. The 10th walk is going to be June of 2020, and I want to get a huge donation from Woodbridge Township because Eric does so much for the town. He goes to the schools; he goes to practices; he will go to the football, basketball, soccer and hockey games. He is so awesome about it. So I want to get our schools involved. Our middle school kids read his book as part of their summer reading, and the kids still have a connection to him.
I was at the Colonia homecoming game this past September, and Eric was there, and they were retiring his jersey. He didn’t know it. And the players would go up to him and tell him what an inspiration he is to them. He just means so much to so many people. He never shows how hard it is. I know it is hard for him; I know it is hard for his mom, too, who is a saint. He never shows it in public. He is always showing positivity. Always. I was proud of him when he played football, but I am so proud of him now. He is so incredibly inspiring. There are days when I have a headache or something, but I am like, ‘Listen, it’s not that bad. If Eric can do what he is doing, then I can go to work today. My migraine will go away.’
We sold over $12,000 worth of t-shirts in two weeks and everyone wore them on October 16th, the day of his injury, to show him we are still supporting him. The money will go to his charity. We have four more fundraisers between now and next June. We have a comedy night February 8th, then we might do another kickball tournament with the high school kids, then on May 30th, we are having a Team LeGrand Luau, with hula dancers, food trucks, etc., and everything we earn will go to the donation for the 10 year anniversary walk next year. He is such a good person, and if I can in some way help him get the word out about spinal cord injuries, then I will be so happy.
- Find out more about Eric LeGrand here: https://ericlegrand52.com/about/
- To purchase t-shirts for the fundraiser go here: https://www.fourgathletics.com/believe
- Join Plymouth Rock in supporting Eric LeGrand’s Roll Model campaign this fall and get a Roll Model t-shirt when you get a free quote (while supplies last):
Interview and photo by Gregory Andrus.
If you would like to nominate an educator to be featured in this series, please contact Gregory at firstname.lastname@example.org