Pro footballer returns to aid hometown
Date: 6/28/2011June 27, 2011
By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD For Ron Brace, it was a moment that brought him to tears.
The Springfield native who has made a living since 2009 going head to head with 300-plus pound offensive linemen for the New England Patriots was forced to take pause and compose himself as he helped announce a massive fund-raising effort, which will be conducted through a collaborative effort with the United Way Tri-County and the Patriots for those affected by the June 1 tornadoes in his hometown.
Brace was joined by Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett on June 21 at Springfield College’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Field as the Patriots announced that Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his family will match every dollar raised by the United Way Tri-County up to $100,000. Those interested in making a donation to the United Way Tri-County can do so by dialing 211 or by visiting www.unitedwaytri-county.org/disaster
“I just want to thank everybody who has come out and helped and supported and gotten the word out. We all live here and we’ve got to help each other out,” Brace said before taking a moment to collect himself and wipe the tears from his eyes.
Brace, who grew up on Clifton Avenue in the city’s South End before relocating to Worcester to play football at Burncoat High School, has never played for a football team outside of the state of Massachusetts. After graduating from Burncoat, he played for Boston College before getting drafted in the second round by the New England Patriots in 2009.
In addition to his involvement in spreading the word regarding the Patriots’ aid to the United Way, Brace himself has been doing what he can to help.
“Everything about me is Massachusetts. I couldn’t have my hometown looking like this and I wanted to do everything I could so I did a little fashion show to raise as much money as I could,” Brace said. “Every time I get a chance where I can help this town, I will.”
Brace was joined by fellow Patriots Randall Cunningham and Brandon Tate at his “Beauty and the Beast” themed fashion show in Boston, which took place on June 9 and said he has been wowed by the support his team has offered.
Tippett expressed both condolences and messages of hope on behalf of the Patriots organization.
“Our hearts continue to beat with the city of Springfield and everyone affected by the tornadoes,” Tippett said, reading from a statement issued by Kraft. “On behalf of the entire organization and everyone here today, please know we cheer you on and stand beside you in support.”
Brace expressed gratitude to the team for its quick and generous response to the tragedy that hit so close to home.
“I just want to thank the Kraft family and the Patriots’ charitable foundation for getting together and doing something like this,” Brace said.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno expressed his optimism for the city’s future in the wake of the twister, citing the way the community has rallied together as well as the aid from outside the immediate community.
“What has carried us through these last couple of weeks has been the resiliency of the residents of the city of Springfield,” Sarno said. “It has helped us put a great team together. And when you think of a team, you think of the New England Patriots.”
Brace’s family, which Sarno called a respected one in the city of Springfield, still resides in the city, but was unhurt by the tornado and while his childhood home was damaged, he said it was “nothing we can’t handle.”
“There are people hurt a lot worse,” Brace said. “There are people without homes, without clothes and without food. It’s crazy.”
Brace told Reminder Publications
that he returned to Springfield the day after the tornado hit and had a chance to see the devastation first hand.
“First and foremost I wanted to check on my family and make sure everybody was alright. Then I had a chance to take a look around and when it really hits home is when it hits your home. There were places that didn’t even look like Springfield,” he said. “I knew I was in a position to do something to help and what kind of person would I be if I let the city stay like this? This city made me what I am today.”
Brace said he hopes to organize more fund-raisers, including one in the Springfield area, but he is still looking for people to help organize an event.
“I’m getting the connections I need to and I’ve spent since last Monday trying to get it together,” Brace said. “If someone wants to help, please contact me.”
Those interested in helping can contact the New England Patriots’ front office at 508-543-8200. Brace also has a twitter account, @Braceyoself97.
Tippett said that while what the area experienced was a tragedy, they can act as inspiration for players like Brace and spur more public outreach.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Tippett said. “I’m going to remind him about his community outreach duties and how he felt on this stand today. The way he felt today is the way people feel every time we reach out to help the community. He is going to be our biggest supporter for this in our locker room.”