Monday, June 22, 2009

Change-Up' in My Plans, Charity from Coaches Gary Williams and Jim Calhoun

I’m writing today before the U.S. Open ends because I’m not going to get to see the finish—at least not live. Weeks ago, I scheduled an audio-taping session for this morning for my new kids book, “Change-Up,” which is coming out in August. I guess it wasn’t very bright to not anticipate either a playoff or bad weather at the Open but, to be completely honest, I was more than ready to get out of Bethpage.

There’s a couple reasons for that, the biggest one being the relentless rain that, unless Phil Mickelson wins the championship or Tiger Woods makes a miracle comeback, will be everyone’s enduring memory of this Open.

The other reason is more personal. Seven years ago, when the Open was first played at Bethpage Black, I had been researching my book on the 2002 Open for a year by the time the Open began. I felt as if I knew everyone involved from all the USGA officials, to everyone working inside the park to the volunteers and the players.

There are two things I really enjoy about researching a book: getting to feel as if I really know and understand a topic—whether it be a team, a league, a sport or a rivalry—and the people that I meet. In 99 out of 100 cases, they are people that I come to like and, in many cases, they remain friends long after the book is finished.

I know I come across as a cynic and a skeptic a lot and, on many issues I’m just that, but one thing I’m generally optimistic about is people. We all know there’s evil in the world (Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh come instantly to mind) but I think most people try to do the right things in life most of the time. I know I’ve found this to be true working on the two charity events I’ve been deeply involved in—The BB+T Classic, which raises money for kids at risk in the Washington area and the Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic, which raises money for ALS research.

Two stories about basketball coaches—who don’t happen to like one another very much—kind of sum up what I’m talking about.

When Peter Teeley, who was George Bush the first’s speechwriter and later his ambassador to Canada (he’s my Republican, I’m his Democrat) asked me in 1994 to become a founding member of the Children’s Charities Foundation, he did it for one reason: I know basketball coaches and the tournament he wanted to start was going to need basketball teams if it was going to be launched.

Holding a tournament in Washington, we needed local teams. Maryland and Georgetown were the two big name teams. I knew that Georgetown wasn’t going to play because John Thompson (the elder) simply didn’t get involved in anything he didn’t have complete control over. That meant we had to have Maryland to have any chance at all to launch.

I called Gary Williams and told him what we were trying to do. This was before Gary had established Maryland as a national power and I was asking him to commit to two non-conference games away from Cole Field House against (we hoped) quality competition.

This was Gary’s answer: “You get it up and running and we’ll be there. I promise.”

Which he has, through a lot of ups and downs, for 15 years. This December Maryland will play Villanova, not exactly an easy December game. The charity has raised close to $10 million. We wouldn’t have raised $10 without Gary.

The Bruce Edwards event is a mix of golf pros, basketball coaches and media celebrities. Lining them up each year isn’t easy. One coach who has always come is Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun.

Last year, several weeks before the event, I picked up a paper and read that Jim was having another bout with cancer, this time skin cancer. The paper said he would be undergoing daily radiation treatment. I called Jim to tell him I was sorry and that I understood that he almost certainly couldn’t make, ‘the Bruce,’ this year.

“My treatments are at 7:30 every morning,” he said. “If the doctor says I can come, I’m going to find a flight and get down there (to Baltimore) as soon as I’m finished.”

A week later he called. “The doctor says I can come,” he said.

“So you found a flight?”

“Actually no,” he said. “I’m chartering a plane. I’m not going to miss this.”

That’s what I mean about people being good. More on the golf tomorrow. By then I will have finished most of the audio and seen all the highlights. With any luck, there will be a champion by then.

1 comment:

Sammy said...

If the idea of this is to read things I don't normally see anywhere else; this is
good, Junior...You don't like Limbaugh though???