For the Boston Globe

Robert Kraft's hands have pressed down into history. Brookline High School, alma mater of the NFL's winningest owner, has instituted a Hollywood-esque Walk of Fame, complete with concrete handprints. Kraft, "Bobby" to his peers in the BHS class of 1959, is the walk's first inductee.

Kraft's hands never touched a football when he was at Brookline High. Growing up in a traditionally religious Jewish family, Kraft couldn't travel to games on the Sabbath. During the week, he was also committed to school after school. "I had a pretty full day," Kraft remembers. "I used to go right from school to religious school for two to three hours." To get from home to school to school to home, Kraft hitchhiked or walked several miles.

In spite of his nonstop educational commitments, Kraft was an involved Brookline Warrior. He ran track, sang in the concert choir, was elected vice president of his junior class, president of his senior class, and even chaired the junior prom.

"Those were four of the greatest years of my life," said Kraft, who matriculated from Brookline to Columbia University on an academic scholarship. He earned an MBA at Harvard, then embarked upon the immensely successful business career that led to his family's ownership of the championship Patriots.

Kraft moves in grander and farther-flung circles than he did in the days when he trudged around town with his schoolbooks, but he still lives in Brookline and he's still a Warrior. He regularly attends high school sporting events and last year donated $500,000 to the school. Yesterday he was to receive the school's fourth Distinguished Alumni Award and a few weeks earlier became the first alumnus to preserve his handprints for posterity.

The alumni award and the Walk of Fame, which will be cemented plaque-by-plaque into the school quad during upcoming renovations, were established by the Brookline High School 21st Century Fund. Created in 1998 by approximately 40 donors giving $10,000 each, the fund operates within the high school as a separately incorporated nonprofit. Its aim, explains executive director Michael Rafferty, is to explore big issues facing public education.

"We aren't the PTO. We have a very good PTO," Rafferty said. "We also aren't in the business of replacing tax dollars. . . . We want to be venture capitalists for innovation in education."

Rafferty touts the Tutorial Program as the fund's showcase. Students with minor disabilities typically must enroll in special education to receive extra help. The Tutorial Program offers them the opportunity to forgo special education and sign on for one-on- one tutoring with a teacher. A recent Harvard Graduate School of Education evaluation of the project revealed that students in the program not only scored similarly in standardized tests to those enrolled in special education, but actually made better progress with their school grades. Once ventures such as the Tutorial Program have been proved successful, they can be shared with other school districts.

Initiating the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Walk of Fame gave the fund opportunities to increase visibility and raise financial support. Michael Dukakis ('51), Mike Wallace ('35), and Conan O'Brien ('81) have received the award in the past and are expected to add their handprints to the walk. Theo Epstein ('91) is an obvious likely future award recipient.

Yesterday's gala honoring Kraft was projected to raise $500,000. Kraft recognizes that his ability to give big, and to attract other big givers, plays into his receipt of such awards. "When you're privileged to have a team that does pretty well, then a lot of people want to give you honors for one reason or another. I'm not naive about the reason for that," he said. "But the real attraction here is to help an institution that was an important part of my life. It's making an investment in the future of public education. . . . If my name can help a little bit spur that on, that's great."