Star-studded Niswonger Children's Hospital Golf Classic a big hit


Front row (seated, left to right):
Dan Marino, Jason Witten, Steve Johnson,
Scott Niswonger, Emmitt Smith, Corey Pavin,
Darius Rucker; standing, Niswonger Children’s Hospital
mascot Scrubs the Bear, Tom Purtzer,
Larry Mize, Condredge Holloway, Dell Curry,
Jim Stuckey, Bill Bates, Phil Fulmer,
Bruce Smith, Frank Beamer, Rick Carlisle,
Bruce Pearl, Victor Jones, Mike Smith.

The Niswonger Children’s Hospital Golf Classic moved up to a new level this year: New venue, more big celebrities, a Sunday night concert by country star Darius Rucker – and most importantly, another big jump in fundraising.

The event held Sunday and Monday raised nearly $700,000 for Niswonger Children’s Hospital. It brought in the biggest celebrity roster yet, including Rucker, golfer Corey Pavin, NFL stars Dan Marino, Jason Witten and the three Smiths – Emmitt, Bruce and Mike – and a host of Tennessee Vol legends.

This year it also included the Rucker concert at Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Greeneville, Tenn., while the tournament itself was held in Bristol, Va., at the The Virginian Golf Club, one of of the most prestigious, highly decorated clubs in the country.

“It was a big win for Niswonger Children’s Hospital,” said Patty Bolton, director of events for Mountain States Foundation, which organized the event. “We exceeded expectations.

“We had such great cooperation from everyone, from the community vendors all the way to the special guest celebrities. It was a real team effort, and it benefits such a great cause.”

Proceeds will be used to purchase syringe pumps, very specialized and expensive equipment that will aid pediatric medicine dosing.

“Our hope is that we don’t have to use these on anybody,” Bolton said, “but when the need does arise, we’ll be able to do it.”

Golfers paid $5,000 apiece to be on teams that each featured one celebrity player. A drawing was held to assign each of the 18 celebrities to the teams. The list of stars was impressive.

Appearing at the tournament for the first time were the Smiths – NFL Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, a Dallas Cowboy legend and among the greatest running backs in history – and Bruce Smith, defensive end for the Buffalo Bills and one of the greatest pass rushers in NFL history, as well as current Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, an East Tennessee State University graduate.

Pavin returned for a third straight year and brought some other famous PGA golfers in Tom Purtzer and Larry Mize, both now on the Champions Tour. University of Tennessee’s Condredge Holloway, Bruce Pearl and Phil Fulmer were among the celebrities, as were Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and former NBA star Dell Curry.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was a late addition to the field, which would also have included Miami Heat star Ray Allen until his team’s Game 7 NBA championship win on June 20 prevented him from attending the Niswonger tournament. Instead of being in Bristol for golf, he was busy enjoying the victory parade in Miami.

“We’re especially grateful to Scott Niswonger and Steve Johnson for the connections they have,” Bolton said. “They really brought in the star power, and it’s our community who keeps bringing the stars back and our community who benefits from them.”

Niswonger is the chief benefactor of the children’s hospital, while Johnson, from Virginia Tech and a former NFL tight end, is the developer for The Virginian.

Rucker, whose version of “Wagon Wheel” recently hit No. 1 on the country charts, put on a concert in the intimate Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Greeneville that drew a full house. He added even more excitement to the evening by auctioning off three autographed acoustic guitars that netted $66,000 for the Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

“The concert was a great avenue for more people in the region to get involved, and a chance for them to give to our children’s hospital,” Bolton said.

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