Sports celebs to hit links

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NATCHEZ — Sports celebrities will once again descend on Beau Pre Country Club in order to raise money for a good cause.

The Celebrity Golf Tour will try to raise at least $20,000 for the Natchez Children’s Home Services when they hold a tournament at Beau Pre Nov. 12.

Expected to participate are such sports personalities as Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim McMahon, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, Major League Baseball umpire Joe West and former NBA star and current ESPN basketball broadcaster Jon Barry.

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The money raised from the tournament will go towards building a new playground for the children’s home, located at 806 North Union St.

The old playground was torn down after it was deemed unsafe and it will cost over $80,000 to build a new one.

The money raised from the golf tournament will fund phase one of the project.

“The playground was 55 years old and it is time for a new one,” Children’s Home Services Executive Director Nancy Hungerford said. “This tournament has already generated quite a bit of excitement at Beau Pre and we hope that the whole community will get excited about it.”

This will be the 10th year that the Celebrity Players Tour has come to Natchez, but this tournament will have by far the largest field of celebrities.

“Usually we just have about four or five that come, but this year we are hoping to have at least 10,” Hungerford said.

Spots are available for both sponsorships and signing up to be paired with a celebrity during the celebrity-amateur tournament on Monday.

In addition to Monday’s tournament, there will be a pairings party on Sunday night at Isle of Capri Hotel which will feature a silent and live auction.

A one-week stay at a beach condo in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., Major League Baseball tickets and a free round of golf at The Preserve in Jackson are just a few of the numerous items that will be auctioned off.

The four par-3 holes on the course are also an opportunity for someone to win a big prize.

Local car dealerships are offering a car to whoever hits a hole-in-one at one of the par-3 holes on the course during Monday’s tournament.

The Natchez Children’s Home Services is a privately funded organization that relies strictly on donations and fund-raising to keep things going.

Hungerford said the organization needs about $600,000 per year to operate efficiently.

The home, which was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest in the country, takes in abused, neglected or abandoned children and gives them care and structure in hopes of making them a upstanding member of society.

They also have an on-campus Christian school, individual group and family counseling and a pre-school day treatment, which takes pre-schoolers who can’t function in a regular classroom setting and tries to rehabilitate them in order to allow them to get back in a regular pre-school.

“We’ve made a difference in the lives of hundreds of kids over the years,” Hungerford said. “They come to us from chaotic home situations and we show them something normal and safe. We give them options for the future. We don’t win them all, but we win lots of them.”

It is seeing the children in the home that keeps the Celebrity Players Tour coming back to Natchez, tour president Lee Moore said.

“The place really touches your heart when you go visit,” Moore said. “It gives you a good feeling to help them. You may not be moving the world, but in a small way, you’re helping.”

Moore said that West, a MLB umpire for 30 years who has played in the Natchez tournament several times, asks him before every baseball season when the tour will be coming to Natchez.

McMahon is another who has played in Natchez numerous times

“It really touches these guys hearts to see the amount of good that is happening at the children’s home,” Moore said. “It makes it easy to want to come back.”