In a ballroom at the Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va. Friday morning, Hall of Fame athletes like Washington Redskins legend Sonny Jurgensen and 10-time NBA champion Sam Jones were reduced to mere faces in a crowd. That's because Redskins legend Bobby Mitchell had assembled a whopping 45 Hall of Famers to participate in his 21st annual fundraiser, the Bobby Mitchell Autotrader.com Hall of Fame Golf Classic.
Athletic icons like Oscar Robertson, Art Shell and Darrell Green aren't here to ham it up with buddies and hack around on the golf course; they're here to support Mitchell in his noble quest to fight cancer. The three-day event, which culminates with Sunday's open-to-the-public golf tournament, raises money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which strives to find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma as well as improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
According to tournament directors, the event raised $40,000 in its inaugural year. This year, $500,000 has been raised, bringing the 21-year total to seven million dollars.
While onlookers were awestruck at the star power and money generated by the occasion, Mitchell asserted the event could have been even bigger.
"I work on this 10 months a year," said Mitchell, the first African-American player to star for the Redskins. "When I'm not in town, I'm out there. If I could get all the guys that I interact with out there around the country, you'd be shocked. You couldn't get in here because you start calling off the names, you're calling out the top names of all the sports. I know all of them and they know me."
Mitchell declared in his speech that the hook which draws all the big names to the tournament every year can be summed up in two words: "young folks." The fact that leukemia afflicts so many young people strikes a sympathetic chord with athletes who had the good fortune to grow up strong and healthy on their way to prolific careers in the sporting arena.
As such, it was fitting Mitchell chose to dedicate this year's event to Taylor Law and Alex Nieves, two young people affected by blood cancers. After two and a half years of chemotherapy, 11-year-old Olney, Md.-native Taylor is now cancer-free and will enter middle school in the fall. Mitchell choked up while talking about the young girl, who was in attendance with her father, Mark. Alex, a 20-year-old lacrosse player from Centreville, Va., was more recently diagnosed with leukemia and was not able to attend Friday's ceremony.
Former Redskin linebacker Chris Hanburger — the tournament's newest guest as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2011 — expressed admiration and sympathy for brave youngsters like Taylor and Alex. Hanburger felt particularly drawn to the event in light of the condition of his 21-year-old grandson, who has been diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, another debilitating illness for which there is no cure.
"He's going through quite a bit right now. There's no cure for Crohn's, but hopefully there's a cure to be found for cancer," Hanburger said. "And that's what Bobby Mitchell's trying for, like so many other folks who devote a lot of time and effort to raise money to fight this deadly disease."
Another recently inducted Hall of Famer, Class of 2009 member Randall McDaniel, maintains a steadfast connection to young people on a daily basis. The former Minnesota Vikings great works in Minneapolis elementary schools with second graders in the special education department, a post he has held since his playing days. He echoed Mitchell's creed that athletes should be just as responsible for giving back to the community as they are for delivering success on the field.
"I was a Raiders fan growing up, but you knew who Bobby was and everything he did in football," McDaniel said. "And then all of a sudden you get to meet all these guys. Me being the young guy, as they say here, it's great just to hear their stories and the things that they talk about. And they're the role models for the younger players, of giving back, of getting behind a cause and sticking with it."
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