South

Boys who stood up to bullying still inspire

Tommy Cooney (right) expanded on an impressive 2013 by organizing another day to honor Danny Keefe (left).
George Rizer for the boston Globe
Tommy Cooney (right) expanded on an impressive 2013 by organizing another day to honor Danny Keefe (left).

Seven-year-old Danny Keefe of Bridgewater sports a Tom Brady shirt and a New England Patriots tie given to him by team owner Robert Kraft.

He’s got ties in his closet from Boston Bruins players, too. He’s been measured for a suit by Patrice Bergeron’s personal tailor.

Why the elegant attire for Danny?

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Because he’s a special little guy whose speech disorder inspired his friend, Tommy Cooney, 12, to stand up against schoolyard bullies.

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“I didn’t want kids to bully people [because] of how they look or how they talk,” said Tommy, who speaks in a deep voice.

His idea to stand up for Danny went viral, with appearances last year on Ellen DeGeneres’s talk show and at a Patriots game as guests of Brady. This year, when a second Danny Appreciation Day was held at the Williams Intermediate School in Bridgewater, ESPN did a story. Now, going forward, the school — where Tommy is in the sixth grade — hopes to build upon his good work and set aside a day where students are reminded to be compassionate and understanding to one another every day.

Danny speaks with difficulty because of a severe brain hemorrhage he suffered at birth (his twin sister, Emily, was not affected). He often wears a suit, tie, and fedora to Mitchell Elementary School, where he’s in first grade.

But Danny’s labored voice and sharp style puzzled some of his schoolmates, which led to teasing. One time, his hat was knocked off and mulch was tossed on his head, said his mother, Jennifer Keefe.

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“When he told me that, I started to cry,” said Keefe, her eyes moist. “Danny looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Mom. It doesn’t matter what they think. It only matters what I think about myself.’ We had taught him that.”

Tommy Cooney’s best friend is Timmy Keefe, Danny’s older brother. The two played on the Bridgewater Badgers, a youth football team. Danny was the team’s “water coach.”

Danny Keefe (left) and his friend Tommy Cooney (right) met Patriots owner Bob Kraft at a game against the Bills in 2013 after Cooney’s story of defending Keefe went viral.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Danny Keefe (left) and his friend Tommy Cooney (right) met Patriots owner Bob Kraft at a game against the Bills in 2013 after Cooney’s story of defending Keefe went viral.

When Tommy heard about the teasing, he took action. He organized Danny Appreciation Day at Williams Intermediate School on Nov. 20, 2013.

Tommy asked his schoolmates to dress in a suit and tie for the day so that everyone would look like Danny. Danny — then a kindergartner — arrived on a fire truck with about nine friends from the Mitchell school.

At a school assembly, students chanted “Danny, Danny, Danny,” before sharing their own stories about feeling bullied.

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“It was very emotional,” said Corinne Cooney, Tommy’s mother. “I think the kids felt comfortable enough to talk among themselves.”

‘I didn’t want kids to bully people [because] of how they look or how they talk.’

Tommy Cooney, 12, of Bridgewater, who expanded on an impressive 2013 by organizing another day to honor Danny Keefe 

A school in Staten Island sent Danny a suit. Tommy received about 35 letters from kids at a school in Arizona. Closer to home, the two boys were invited to antibullying events at Weymouth High School and Wamsutta Middle School in Attleboro.

“A student has started the [events] at all the schools,” Jennifer Keefe said. “It’s nice to see that.”

ESPN last month aired another video about the pair. Danny, decked out in a black suit, is seen in his new gig as the water boy for the Bridgewater-Raynham High School football team.

“I still kind of chuckle at the magnitude of all of this,” said Mark Keefe, Danny’s father.

The ESPN video capped a year in the media and sports spotlight.

On DeGeneres’s talk show, Brady, appearing in a video, praised the boys’ character and leadership and invited them to be his special guests at last year’s Patriots-Bills season finale. Kraft presented the boys with shirts and footballs signed by Brady. Danny got a tie, too.

“It’s my favorite,” he said.

In March, the Bruins invited the boys and their teammates to be special guests. Bergeron and other players personally delivered ties to Danny. “The Bruins were amazing,” Mark Keefe said.

This year, Cooney organized the second Danny Appreciation Day — held on the same date, Nov. 20. Students — both boys and girls — dressed in suits and ties.

Nancy Kirk, the principal of Williams Intermediate School, said she’d like to see Danny Appreciation Day expanded into a day of respect for all.

“We’re thinking about making it a day where even the teachers think about the importance of being compassionate and supportive to others,” Kirk said. “It would be done in the spirit of Tommy Cooney.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe. com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.