Paula Fitzgerald is part of the history of girls’ basketball in Connecticut, serving as an assistant coach at Westbrook High School when the team won six straight Class S state championships from 1982-87, and she’s continued her dedication to Westbrook athletes ever since.
Fitzgerald was an assistant under head coach Pete Shuler from 1980-95, during which time Westbrook set a state record with 62 consecutive victories and won eight state championships. Fitzgerald was named the state’s assistant coach of the year in 1995 and was the recipient of a CIAC Merit Award in 2017 prior to the girls’ basketball state championship games at Mohegan Sun.
She was the athletic director at Westbrook for 33 years, presiding over a successful athletic program at the school, and earned the Distinguished Service Award from the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors in 2002. She still coaches the White Knights’ girls’ junior varsity basketball team and the varsity girls’ tennis team, a sport in which Fitzgerald achieved her 500th career victory on May 12, 2023.
“I was fortunate in my third year of teaching to be hired at Westbrook High School as a teacher,” said Fitzgerald, a retired science teacher. “Pete needed an assistant coach, which led to a 15-year partnership. He was a great mentor to me as a basketball coach. I used the skills learned and have used them in other sports I have coached.”
Fitzgerald, who said her goal, as always, is to “help student-athletes achieve to the best of their ability,” lists a pair of significant events during her tenure as assistant basketball coach (although there were certainly more).
In 1987, the White Knights defeated favored Kolbe Cathedral 45-41 for what was their sixth straight state championship — “the team holds Kolbe scoreless in the fourth quarter; Kolbe’s All-American Jennifer Dunbar held to four points for the game (averaged 23),” she said. Then, to open the 1987-88 season, Westbrook lost to Killingly in a game where Killingly’s Tracy Lis became Connecticut’s all-time leading scorer with 49 points, eclipsing Kolbe grad Walter Luckett. Fitzgerald calls it “a great game for high school girls’ basketball in Connecticut in front of a packed gym.”
Fitzgerald graduated from Fitch High School in Groton in 1973 before basketball was offered, competing for a recreation league in Mystic. She attended Southern Connecticut State University, receiving her degree in physical education, playing varsity tennis for four years and junior varsity basketball and team handball each for two. She earned her master’s degree in exercise science from UMass.
A Westbrook resident, Fitzgerald enjoys playing tennis and pickleball. She calls basketball “a sport that is dynamic that needs the best athletes to use a variety of skills and strategies to be able to compete.” Fitzgerald will be presented as a member of the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame by fellow Hall of Famer Pete Shuler.