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Mount Carmel's 'Mr. Fight Night' Will Be Honored, Missed

By Justin Breen | April 15, 2013 6:55am

CICERO — Ironically, Mount Carmel's "Mr. Fight Night" spent only one year as a student at the iconic South Side high school.

But Mike Fitzgerald was a Caravan legend for his devotion to the school, especially when it came to its annual Fight Night charity event.

Fitzgerald, 82, died Feb. 28 after organizing Fight Night — in which Mount Carmel students face off in amateur boxing matches — since 1978.

"Mike put his heart and soul into this," said Jim Deering, President of the Mount Carmel Fathers Club, Fight Night's main sponsor.

Deering said this year's Fight Night, on April 27 at the school's Alumni Gym, will honor Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald's favorite song, "Danny Boy," will be played by bagpipers, and the ring bell will be chimed 10 times in his honor.

"And a 'Trophy of Excellence' will be named after Mike," said Fitzgerald's lifelong friend, Jack Riffice.

Like Riffice, Fitzgerald grew up in Grand Grossing, attended Mount Carmel as a freshman but transferred to and graduated from Hirsch High School.

In high school, Fitzgerald won Catholic Youth Organization boxing titles in 1946 and 1947, and he also claimed a Golden Gloves championship in 1947. In the Army, where Fitzgerald fought in the Korean War, he was lightweight champion of the 25th Infantry Division.

Fitzgerald began training Caravan boxers in 1978. Fitzgerald was intensely loyal to Mount Carmel, in part because his nephew, the Rev. Tim Andres was principal there, and his uncle, the Rev. Terence Fitzgerald, was the school's athletic director.

"Mount Carmel was everything to him," said Howie Fagan, a Southeast Side native and Caravan alumnus who is director of sponsorship at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Fagan said Fitzgerald's efforts helped turn Fight Night into the Fathers Club's biggest fundraiser. The event packs the Alumni Gym, where fans' legs hang over the rafters.

"The fans want the old-school atmosphere," said Jack Keane, an Armour Square resident and Mount Carmel grad who knew Fitzgerald for about 20 years.

Keane said "he's never seen a salesman" like Fitzgerald, who was relentless in hawking raffle and admission tickets.

Deering said Fitzgerald "was so proud of what the kids accomplished in the ring and outside the ring."

Riffice agreed, telling the story of the Hernandez family, of Cicero, who became friends with Fitzgerald a few years ago through boxing. The family's patriarch, Carlos, said Fitzgerald helped him and his wife, Cristina, obtain financial aid for their sons, Carlos, Javier and Adrian.

The younger Carlos, who won four Fight Night matches, graduated last year and is now a freshman on an academic scholarship at St. Mary's University of Minnesota.

"He was always willing to help somebody," said the elder Carlos, a Morgan Park High School graduate. "He didn't look at who you were or where you came from.

"The great man that he was, he'll be greatly missed but never forgotten."

Fight Night is April 27 at Mount Carmel High School, 6410 S. Dante Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students.