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Ozarks Open charities hope to break $1 million mark

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by Abby Beggerly

SBJ Staff

Professional golf hopefuls won't be the only ones setting a precedent during the 1998 Nike Ozarks Open.

Now in its ninth year, the tour hopes to set new standards by breaking the $1 million mark in total proceeds given to benefiting charities since the tournament's inception. To date, the tournament has raised a total of $850,000 over the years.

The Nike Tour is the largest fund-raising event in the area for four local children's charities the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield, Ronald McDonald House of the Ozarks, Southwest Area Special Olympics and A Sporting Chance. The groups not only receive donations, but public exposure.

Dick Jones, director of A Sporting Chance, said the Nike has been great for circulating the names and missions of the organizations among the community.

A Sporting Chance provides disadvantaged or disabled kids with an opportunity to participate in recreational basketball, softball, track and field, integrated golf, football, bowling and swimming programs.

Jones added that without the proceeds from the tour, the organization couldn't offer as many diverse programs or reach as many kids.

"The tournament provides 35 to 40 percent of our budget," Jones said.

Similar objectives are also in mind for Bill Stalnaker, director of the Boys & Girls Club of Springfield. The organization uses social, physical and educational programs to guide and direct kids with varying backgrounds. The activities teach kids ages 6-18 self-esteem, citizenship and good values.

"With the donations (the Nike tournament has) received over the years, it's enabled us to do what we never could have done without it," Stalnaker said.

A new basketball program for Southwest Area Special Olympics is being funded from the tournament proceeds that charity receives, according to the organization's director, Susan Miles.

Donations will fund the new program, along with maintaining the 18 other Olympic-style programs for children and adults with mental and developmental disabilities. Proceeds will also be used to send athletes to state competition.

The public recognition that comes with the tournament is another benefit.

"The Nike is great for promoting the organization and showing the club's presence at the tournament," Stalnaker said.

Each of the four charities supplies volunteers during the event to park cars and assist with Press Day, concessions and the hospitality area.

Every benefiting organization has 80 to 100 volunteers at the event, all bearing organizational insignias on their shirts.

Many of the organizations' volunteers initially discovered the charities at past Nike tournaments.

"The volunteer part has really been big," said Bonnie Keller, president and chief presiding officer of the Ronald McDonald House of the Ozarks. "There's a lot of people we solicit on our behalf who learn about the house and end up volunteering during the year."

"A home away from home" is the atmosphere the Ronald McDonald House of the Ozarks provides for families while they travel for medical attention for their seriously ill children.

"Many people don't realize that the Ronald McDonald House is not just a Springfield charity," Keller said. The house helps those from out of the area who must travel to Springfield, she added.

Nine years ago, the Ronald McDonald House was the first and only benefiting charity of the tournament.

"They started adding charities when they realized how successful the event is and the potential," Keller said. "If you really look at different charitable events in the area, this is one of the highest as far as money for charities."

Also, "Last year was the highest ever in the amount of proceeds that each charity received, however, each year there's an expectation to go past the year before," Keller said. "I know that's a major goal to continually raise that and reach so many children."

Not only are organizers planning to break the $1 million barrier, but four new activities have been added to the tour.

"These four new events will generate more revenue, and that's great," Keller said.

The new events are the Consumers Food & Drug Junior Pro-Am, Silver Dollar City Pro-Am, Long Drive Contest and the 19th Green Party.

The junior pro-am will provide kids from benefiting charities and local junior golf program participants an opportunity to play golf with Nike Tour pros.

"Many of the kids in our organization will be given the only chance they may have to play golf," Stalnaker said.

These tour additions helped bring two new benefiting charities on board for the first-ever Silver Dollar City Pro-Am Tournament. Camp Barnabas and Branson Youth Life will be among the beneficiaries of the tournament.

Paul Teas, executive director of Camp Barnabas, said the organization is excited to be associated with the new event. He added that the donations the camp receives will help with camp functions and the construction of a health facility and physician's housing, needed for the seriously ill kids who attend through the summer.

"We have been very fortunate because of Peter and Jack Herschend, the owners of Silver Dollar City," Teas said. "They have been great mentors to the camp, especially Peter, who has been a real champion."

It was through the camp's affiliation with the owners of Silver Dollar City that it hooked up with the tour, Teas said.

Branson Youth Life is an interdenominational ministry to teenagers. The charity provides a caring environment through volunteer and staff role models. The organization promotes resistance programs addressing drugs, alcohol, suicide, peer pressure, gangs, violence and runaways.

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