By Ginger DeShaney
What started as a pickup flag football game between kids and their moms has grown into a major fundraiser that benefits South Boston children.
“My main focus is truly the kids who are in need,” said Allison Baker, founder of Kickoff for Kids. “That’s why it was created.”
This year’s Kickoff for Kids women’s flag football tournament will be held Saturday, June 25, at the Pop Warner Field next to the Murphy Rink. There are 10 teams in the 30+ division (also known as the Moms’ division) and eight teams in the younger division. “The moms love it,” Allison said, noting some teams are stacked with 20 players. “They like to be part of something, enjoy the day, and be with their friends.”
Registration is closed but fans are encouraged to stop by the tournament between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and support the teams and the cause.
Allison started Kickoff for Kids in 2017 after taking a job at the Tierney Center and seeing what Christmas was like for the kids there. “The letters to Santa listed things like socks, fruit snacks, toys. It wasn’t a typical list I was used to seeing and I wanted to do more for them.
“I asked my friends to donate and I got some stuff for the kids, but I felt as though it wasn’t enough.”
So she brainstormed on how she could help and the lifelong athlete turned to a sports tournament, inspired by the Thanksgiving football games she and her friends played against their moms.
Since the inception of the nonprofit organization, Allison, 28, has been able to raise – and give back – $130,000 to the community from five flag football tournaments, four Christmas giveaways, and 15 community events. Every donation the organization makes is in memory of Colin McGrath.
“I look at who truly needs it the most,” Allison said. “I hit everybody, but certain people get more.”
Recipients include all the community centers, Gatey CYO, the South Boston Neighborhood House, the Boys & Girls Club, and Colin’s Joy Project, among many others.
From donating clothes and Christmas gifts to kids in need, to paying for school field trips, to helping local restaurants during the COVID shutdown through gift card fundraisers, Allison’s goal is to give back.
“That’s what I love to do. The money isn’t just sitting in an account,” she said. “It’s constantly being used for something … and it’s being utilized in every part of the community, obviously more so in other areas, but my goal is to do it for kids who need it.
“I can’t express how important it is to give back,” Allison added. “Our motto is to pay it forward.”
Allison wants to make the tournament more known than it already is. “I’m not saying it’s going to be some multimillion-dollar nonprofit, but for being only a thing for five years, each year it gets bigger and bigger. I hope in the future it’s a big deal. I’m going to continue to make sure it is because I want it to become bigger; so this is just the beginning for me.”
Eventually she’d like to also provide scholarships to inner-city youth with the money her organization raises.
But Allison deflects much of the credit, preferring to give shout-outs to her board members, friends, and sponsors.
“I just want to acknowledge the people who have truly been there with me since I’ve started this,” Allison said.
“I would be absolutely nowhere without my cousin Jacqueline Beggan and our friends: Jaelyn Kenneally, Haley Dillon, and Lily Joyce.”
Caroline Madden and Freddy Ahern have been Allison’s biggest supporters her entire life. Ashley Coughlin, Barbara Kelly, and Joe Hassell are the brains behind all of the big decisions.
“Planning this event isn’t easy, but all of these people make it easy by showing up each year,” Allison said.
She recently found the missing piece: Victor Baldassari, who came up with Kickoff for Kids’ motto. “He taught me that when you pay it forward, it always comes back. What he does for this community sometimes goes unnoticed. He is a huge advocate for girls’/women’s sports and runs the only women’s basketball league in South Boston. He’s been my role model for a very long time and I’m happy to have him on my team.”
Victor was instrumental in introducing Allison to Al Mallon, Domenic Baldassari, and John Piekutoski, who helped her make important connections within the South Boston community and beyond.
“There are so many more people who help make this day a success,” she said. “The list goes on and on. I love being a part of this community.”
Allison, a Perkins School paraprofessional and coach, is also grateful for all the sponsors.
It’s to the point where she doesn’t have to ask anymore for sponsorships. Once word gets out about the tournament, her previous sponsors reach out to her. And this year, City of Boston Credit Union joined the lineup.
When the tournament started five years ago, it was held in the fall, when the weather can be very cold. After a COVID hiatus, Allison ended up organizing two tournaments last year to make up for lost time. Everyone loved the June date over the fall date. “When I had it in June, everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, never go back to the cold.’ ”
While Allison is not ruling out a fall flag football tournament, she knows she can hold other fundraising events instead, like a Halloween party, a cornhole tournament, etc. She has also teamed up with the City of Boston for events.
“At the end of the day it’s all about the kids and to be the person you needed when you were younger,” she said.
If you’d like to donate to Kickoff for Kids, you can Venmo money to @Kickoff4kids, send a check to Kickoff for Kids at 28A Story St., South Boston, MA 02127, or head to the tournament and purchase some merchandise.