A professional golf tournament is a lot of things. It is players and spectators, shuttle buses and beer taps, practice ranges and putting greens, birdies and bogeys, live TV and a check to the winner.
But that’s not the check that means the most to the people who sponsor and run the Marathon Classic, presented by Owens Corning and O-I.
The main reason this LPGA tournament has existed for nearly 30 years is one thing spectators will hardly notice and rarely think about this week at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
The Marathon Classic — like the Jamie Farr Classic before it — is in the business of raising money for children’s charities in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
“I’ve always said that the best day of the year, the best thing about this job, is when we hand the checks out to our charities in December,” said Sandy White, the tournament’s director of operations.
Tournament officials have handed out checks totaling $8.1 million dollars to more than 100 charities since the event’s inception in 1984.
That’s more than it has paid to its champions, so it’s pretty clear who the real winners are here.
Any charity that supports children’s causes can apply to be a tournament beneficiary. A committee of the Marathon Classic’s board members picks the lucky winners on an annual basis.
“And I get to make the phone calls to tell them they’ve been accepted,” White said. “I’ve had people scream in my ear they’re so excited. It’s pretty neat. Everybody’s so grateful.”
There are only three rules, according to White. The money requested by a charity has to be used for a specific program, not for operating expenses. Charities are expected to provide volunteers, meaning the people waving your car to an open parking spot in the public lot might well be representing one or more of them. And once a charity has been selected, there is a three-year waiting rule before it can re-apply.
There are two core charities, however, that receive money on an annual basis. Local McDonald’s restaurant owners covered tournament losses in its very early years, so the Ronald McDonald House Charities gets a nice slice of the pie every year. So, too, does the Jamie Farr Scholarship Fund that is administered by the Toledo Community Foundation.
A year ago, the tournament netted $378,000 for 23 children’s charities in its first year under Marathon Petroleum’s sponsorship.
Marathon spokesman Craig Weigand, the company’s manager of advertising and credit, said seeing that total rise “significantly” in 2014 is the sponsors’ No. 1 goal.
“And it will happen this year; we already know that,” Weigand said. “That’s our main focus. We’ll consider our tournament sponsorship a success to the extent we build the charitable gift. And, believe me, our goals are quite high.”
Twenty-two charities, including the Ronald McDonald House and Farr Scholarship Fund, are set to share in the proceeds this year. Since Marathon has come on board, charities from its Findlay/Hancock County base have been encouraged to come on board, as well.
You’ve heard of many of this year’s charities, like Junior Achievement, Mobile Meals, and Anne Grady Services. The names of some, like the Children’s Hunger Alliance and the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Toledo, pretty much tell their own stories.
Some are big charities with million-dollar budgets. Some are not. Last year, checks written by Toledo Classic, Inc. to its charities ranged from $2,000 to $27,000. It all depends on what is requested to fund specific programs.
With that in mind, let’s visit Ryan’s Place in McComb, just a few miles off I-75 northwest of Findlay. This is not a big charity. It is literally a mom and pop operation with a fairly small request but dreams of making a big difference.
About a decade ago, Deb and Denny Kauffman’s adopted son, Ryan, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He reacts before he thinks, according to his mom, and has anger issues, for which he is prescribed medication. Ryan, now 13, can be a handful.
“I’m a big believer in getting help for kids and I wanted to take Ryan somewhere so that he could socialize with other kids, do some of the things that other kids do, and in a safe environment,” Deb said. “I found there really wasn’t a somewhere.”
So the Kauffmans created that somewhere on the six acres that surrounds their home. They have overnight camps, like scouts would attend, where the special needs kids have cookouts, roast marshmallows and sleep in tents. There are craft activities with children making birdhouses or planting flowers in pots they make and decorate. The annual Christmas party is a big hit.
It’s a nonstop enterprise and labor of love for the Kauffmans, both of whom work full-time jobs.
A million-dollar budget? It’s more like $2,000-$3,000 a year. They raise funds with a garage sale and a walkathon. Cooper Tire in Findlay has a “jeans day” every so often where employees can pay $1 to wear jeans to work and the money goes to charity. Ryan’s Place benefits from one of those days. Deb said Marathon has provided an annual donation.
It’s a small operation but it has a big need. The property floods from heavy rains and activities often have to be canceled. Ryan’s Place would like a properly drained picnic shelter area. Including excavation, tiling, and construction, it’s a $5,500 project the Kauffmans could not afford without help.
The Marathon Classic’s charities committee said OK. Let us help.
“I was so grateful just to be able to apply for it,” Deb Kauffman said. “To be approved and included, well, it’s a total blessing from above.”
When defending champion Beatriz Recari visited Highland Meadows last month for media day she spent an hour conducting a golf clinic for children representing some of the tournament’s charities.
Nicole Leslie brought her daughter, Grace, and several others from Gliding Stars of Findlay, a charity that provides physically, mentally or emotionally disabled kids, some for whom standing or walking is a challenge or impossibility, with an adaptive ice skating program.
“Being able to make friends and realizing they can do something that they otherwise could not do brings these kids out of their shells,” said Nicole, a member of the charity’s advisory council. “It’s amazing to see.”
And it’s a challenge to fund. It costs more than $900 per year to cover a skater’s ice time and equipment. Families are asked to pay only $150 of that, leaving at least $750 per skater to be covered by the charity.
The biggest annual fund-raiser is the ice show at the end of the season. Marathon Petroleum has long been a supporter.
But Gliding Stars has long wanted to produce a training video that could be used by its seven chapters in the U.S. That was its request to the Marathon Classic.
The committee said OK. Let us help.
Rarely has that help been more important through the years than in the case of the Children’s Rights Council of NW Ohio. The non-profit exists as a court-ordered, neutral third party in often-contentious custody/visitation cases with a mission to promote family values for children caught in the middle.
“That doesn’t strike a chord with a lot of people unless they’ve been through it, so we’ve always been in a tenuous position financially,” said executive director Margaret Wuwert. “The LPGA tournament has been a godsend to us.”
Wuwert said the Children’s Rights Council has been a tournament charity three times, most recently in 2011, and has received some $120,000 through the years.
She admits, “We really were on the brink of failing [in 2011] and the contribution from the [then] Farr Classic certainly helped keep us going. I have nothing but praise. Kids are our entire mission and that’s the tournament’s mission, too.”
And it has been a perfect marriage of missions for 100-plus charities, big and small, for three decades. The tournament’s total contribution is at $8 million and counting. All for kids.
If you attend and support the Marathon Classic this week, that’s the reason you’re there, whether you know it or not.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.