Former Bishop Kenny basketball players and Bruce Kujawa
Former Bishop Kenny basketball players founded For The Bruce, a non-profit foundation dedicated to assist Bruce Kujawa (bottom center) in his fight against Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

Former players rallying to aid of Warrington alum

Bruce Kujawa (BSBA ’80, MBA ’83) supported his players on and off the court. A former assistant basketball coach at Jacksonville’s Bishop Kenny High School, Kujawa encouraged them to not quit the sport when it got tough, and acted as a father figure to the young men who didn’t have one.

Those players are now supporting their former coach, and raising money to help Kujawa in his fight against Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS). His players founded “For the Bruce,” a non-profit foundation benefitting Kujawa’s MS treatment and homecare. The foundation is holding a fundraiser, the For the Bruce Golf Tournament, on Thursday, March 27 at 11 a.m. at the Deerwood Country Club in Jacksonville.

“A lot of the people that are most generous and loyal to Bruce are the ones he helped the most,” said Keith Lechwar (BSPR ’95), one of Kujawa’s former players and For The Bruce board member.

Kujawa was diagnosed with SPMS in 1999. SPMS occurs in patients already diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting MS, where symptoms are intermittent. SPMS, conversely, is a sustained, gradual worsening of the disease. Kujawa, a previous member of the UF MBA Advisory Board, is unable to walk. He struggled to find the words to describe how he felt about his former players teaming up to help him.

“These guys and their families,” Kujawa paused, choking up, “just mean a lot to me. They’re special people.”

After a year of working as an office manager at a boatyard in Port St. Lucie, he returned to his hometown of Jacksonville and worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Kujawa said. During that time, he also coached at Bishop Kenny, his alma mater.

Lechwar played for Kujawa from 1987 to 1991. He said Kujawa was a great behind-the-scenes coach, a man who gave moral and psychological support to his players.

“He never did it for the glory. He never did it for the credit,” Lechwar said. “He just knew his role. And he played it well.”

Lechwar said he remembers tailgating on Norman field with his former coach, a season ticketholder.

“I’m a diehard Gator,” Kujawa said.

Kujawa said his time in the MBA program was his favorite period at UF.

“The MBA was my best time because of the people, the classmates, and also the faculty,” he said.

Kujawa worked for John Kraft, Dean of the Warrington College of Business Administration, during grad school, and called Kraft “a very influential figure in my life.” They’ve been friends for about 30 years.

“Bruce is a person who was always there to help others,” Kraft said. “It is important that people step up and be there to help Bruce.”

Lechwar said he talks to Kujawa every other day. Though not able to walk, Kujawa remains positive. He continues to root for the Gators, and still plays an active role in the lives of his former players.

Lechwar said Kujawa is a man he wants to emulate.

“Here’s a guy who could be mad at the world, and he’s not,” Lechwar said. “Bruce is a man who is inspiring to this day.”

To reserve a spot in the For The Bruce Golf Tournament, email Keith Lechwar up to 24 hours before the event. Registration is $150.

A dinner and silent auction will follow the tournament at 5:30 p.m. The foundation requests a $25 donation from everyone but golfers and their families. Children are also admitted for free.