Friday, July 13, 2007

Like a lot of high school football players, Ramon Hilliard, 15, dreams of NFL superstardom. “I want to be the best running back ever. Not alive — ever,” he said at the Lansdowne Resort near Leesburg, Va., Saturday night.

But the 42 football and six basketball greats he got to meet at the 17th annual Bobby Mitchell/Toyota Hall of Fame Golf Classic were calling him a hero. Ramon, you see, is an energetic and spunky cancer survivor and was there to represent all the patients who have benefited from the event’s substantial contributions to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Former Washington Redskins running back Bobby Mitchell works 10 months of the year to coordinate the annual golf and dinner benefit, which raised more than $700,000 for the cause this year.

“I’ve been so excited about this evening, I started sweating about two hours ago,” Mr. Mitchell told the crowd. “My clothes are soaking wet.”

In addition to Ramon, four other young leukemia survivors escorted each Hall of Famer to his seat. Former Philadelphia Eagle Tommy McDonald hunched over to dance into the room with a beaming Caroline Kennedy, 11.

As photographs of the athletes then and now flashed onto screens at either end of the room, guests tried to connect the young men in uniforms to the elder gentlemen in suits. At least their dimples hadn’t changed all that much.

It was hard to believe Lou Creekmur weighed almost 270 pounds when he played offensive tackle for Detroit as he reminisced in the company of his peers, his slight frame perched outside in the sun.

“[Hall of Famers have] a real close camaraderie,” he said. “There’s a mutual respect.”

Former Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon agreed. “It’s almost like a brotherhood,” he said.

Aside from Mr. Mitchell, other Redskins on hand included Ken Houston, Sam Huff and the great Sonny Jurgensen, whose team placed second in the golf tournament on Sunday.

Ordinary folk paid $250 apiece to mingle with these and other greats (among them Oscar Robertson, Marquez Haynes, Elvin Bethea, John Stallworth and Roger Wehrli) over filet mignon and shrimp. Bidding at the live auction got competitive over two footballs signed by all the Hall of Famers present, which sold for $10,000 each.

The crowd got even more excited over a jar of homemade cookies baked and auctioned off by Ramon himself.

“These cookies can make you fly, make you beautiful and make you look younger,” he said.

The youngster’s a born salesman. His cookies sold for $4,000.

— Amanda Lewis

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