Celebrity athletes visit town to help children’s hospital
By Chris Shields
At tee time, the fourth annual event had already broken records by raising more than $300,000. Niswonger Children's Hospital serves 200,000 children from a four-state region.
Celebrity golfers attending this year's event included Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, Elizabethton native and current Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, PGA professional Corey Pavin, and a host of current and former University of Tennessee coaches, as well as many others.
Tournament organizer Scott Niswonger opened the morning festivities by thanking the sponsors and celebrities in attendance.
“We appreciate and want to recognize our sponsors who believe in the health and welfare of our children and have given so graciously,” Niswonger said. “To our celebrities, thank you all for giving up your time to be here with us, and your recognition of how important healthy young children are.”
For Witten, the tournament acted as a homecoming as he returned to the area to particpate in the event.
“To be in the situation I am in now, it is very important to come back and be a part of this,” Witten said. “This hospital changes lives and saves lives every day. The impact on the lives of kids is an amazing thing to see, and it is an honor to be here.”
Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open champion and captain of the 2010 Ryder Cup team, returned to participate in the charity tournament.
“Helping kids and their families is very special,” Pavin said. “It is great to see this event grow and raise more money for the children's hospital.”
Marino, a new participant this year, headlined the long list of celebrities. The former Miami Dolphins quarterback and 2005 Hall of Fame inductee is no stranger to helping raise money for children, having established his own children's charity in South Beach.
“It is always good when you can raise money and change kids' lives in a positive way,” he said.
Of all the celebrities in attendance, none garnered more attention than Manning, former University of Tennessee quarterback and current Denver Bronco. The record four-time NFL MVP played 14 seasons for the Indianapolis Colts, guiding the team to the Super Bowl in 2006.
The former Volunteer is also well known for his charitable contributions in Knoxville, Indianapolis and now Denver. \This year marked Manning's third time as an attendee at the Niswonger Classic.
“It truly is a special day when you can raise money for a great cause,” Manning said. “I have an affiliation with a children's hospital in Indianapolis, and I have enjoyed the conversations I have had over the years with Scott (Niswonger) about the great things the hospital here is doing.”
Manning emphasized the difficulty children needing medical care often face and the toll a hospital stay can often take on the child and their family.
“Nobody wants to be in a hospital, as a child or a family,” he said. “While they are there, the more pleasant the experience because of the care they receive can make all the difference. The money being raised today is going to help kids to have a more comfortable stay, and it truly is great work everybody is doing on behalf of Niswonger Children's Hospital. I am proud to be a part of this.”
The fundraising event is expected to take place again next year, with the date scheduled for June 24, 2013.