Teeing Off for a Cure

Teeing Off for a Cure

Hall of famers gather at Lansdowne for annual charity golf tournament.

Denae Hilliard may be one of the lucky mothers, but that is not stopping her for continuing to fight for other children and their families.

When her 15-year-old son, Ramon, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, in November 2005, she did not know what to do.

"It was the most devastating news of my life," she said. "From a child who had never given me a moment of trouble. My world just dropped."

While doctors told her there was a cure, Hilliard was also told Ramon would probably have less than a 50 percent chance of finding a bone marrow match. Not to be dissuaded, Hilliard began holding bone marrow donor drives, searching tirelessly for a match.

"I went on a crusade," Hilliard said. "Not only for Ramon, but for the many others in the hospital, all of the parents, all of the mothers and all of the children. If we couldn’t save Ramon, we could save someone else."

One year ago, Ramon, a high-school running back and the patient hero for the 17th annual Bobby Mitchell Hall of Fame Golf Classic, received his bone marrow transplant. His mother is still continuing her work.

"I’m still an advocate for anyone who needs to know some of the things they could go through," she said. "I will support the cause forever."

IN THE PAST 17 years Mitchell has raised more than $5 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and he shows no signs of stopping. The July 8 tournament managed to break last year’s record, raising more than $700,000 for the society.

"We’re so proud of the fact that we have so many friends of this tournament," Mitchell said.

At Sunday’s tournament, more than 40 hall of fame football and basketball players were on hand to play for charity, along with foursomes of golfers who paid to be a part of the tournament.

The weekend started with a preview breakfast Friday morning at the Bethesda Country Club in Maryland, an invitation-only gala Saturday night and a full round of golf Sunday. The tournament faced some stiff competition with the Tiger Woods-sponsored AT&T National tournament being held in Bethesda, Md., the same weekend, but Mitchell was happy with the weekend’s success.

"We’ve got 17 years into this," he said Sunday. "We’ve billed it on the fact that we have more hall of famers than any other event, it makes a world of difference. We raised more than $700,000, so that show’s it right there that we weren’t really effected."

DURING THE PREVIEW breakfast, Donna McKelvey, executive director of the National Capital Area chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said events like Mitchell’s tournament have helped the society make "tremendous strides" with the diseases.

"It is helping to create awareness," she said. "The money has had a direct impact on the lives of the patients and families we serve."

Currently, McKelvey said, the survival rate for children with cancer is 86 percent, when it was only 4 percent in 1960.

It is the children, Mitchell said, that keeps him and the other hall of famers coming back.

"I believe that the basic reason is that this, leukemia, lymphoma and all cancers, seem to be tough on young people under 20 years old," he said. "So it is natural to ask these guys to come and they’ve come year after year after year. As football players, we are really involved with kids and young folks."

For Ramon, who was recently able to rejoin his high-school football team, the chance to be the honored patient at the annual golf tournament at Lansdowne Resort this past weekend was about more than just spreading awareness.

"I’m going to be looking for some advice," he said.