By GIB SNYDER III
OBSERVER Sports Reporter
Four years ago, Fredonia native Nathan George was driving to his home in Raleigh, N.C. from the Kentucky Derby.
OBSERVER?Photo by Gib Snyder III
Pictured is Nathan George Foundation board member Mike Cerrie.
He never made it.
George lost control of the car he was driving as the result of a heavy storm. George's friend Brian Miller also perished in the crash.
One can see why the Run for the Roses means more to those who knew and loved George, and so it wasn't long after his passing that his bereaved girlfriend, Morgan Seegert, came up with a way to honor him. In Sept. 2009 the first Nathan George Foundation Softball Tournament was held.
"It's definitely always in the back of your mind," foundation board member ,- and longtime friend - Mike Cerrie said of George's passing. "I've been out of town for every other Kentucky Derby. I haven't been around, but this year I didn't go anywhere and it definitely is on the back of your mind.
"I'm always looking for that horse, just by looking at the name, that reminds me of Nate," Cerrie continued, "thinking maybe it will be an omen and we can make some money off it for the foundation."
This August will mark the fifth Nathan George Foundation Softball Tournament, however, before that, the foundation will hold the first Nathan George Foundation Golf Tournament.
"We thought it was another avenue for exposure for the foundation," Cerrie said of why he and the board of directors decided to add a golf tournament to this year's list of fundraising events for the foundation. "From being around golf, there were people that I was friends with that didn't really know what the Nathan George Foundation was. And potentially (the golf tournament) will open up a whole different avenue of supporters."
The tournament, which will be held at Shorewood Country Club on Sunday, June 2, will serve as a fundraiser for the foundation. However, and perhaps more importantly, after the dinner, the foundation will introduce the winners of two $2,500 scholarships. One will go to the top senior male high school athlete in northern Chautauqua County while the other will go to the top female senior high school athlete.
"They can actually see a couple of kids that benefit from what they do and how they contribute to our foundation," Cerrie said of those who decide to participate in the golf tournament. "This year, we're giving this $5,000 and we're also continuing to give our scholarships to those that apply at Fredonia, Dunkirk, Silver Creek, Brocton and Forestville. Just this year alone, we're giving out over $10,000 with scholarships and other donations."
The winners of the scholarships needed not to apply, as the board selected both athletes based on their accomplishments on the field during their final year of high school. They have not been informed of the honor, but will be in the near future.
"(Board member) Pat (Wheeler) raised the idea of having the big scholarship award and the golf tournament kind of spawned off that," Cerrie said. "We understand that there's a lot of golf tournaments out there. Every weekend you can play in a golf tournament, but I think along with the money we give back to sports and the scholarships for the kids, we also buy all of the materials locally, so we're putting the money right back into the local economy as much as possible."
Other board members besides Cerrie and Wheeler include Brooke Incitto, George's mother Sandy, his father Dave, his sister Lyndsey George, Adam Dimitri, Derek Griffith, Jill Zappie, Lynn Stock, Kelly Szymanowicz, Patty Lynn and Richie Allen. All volunteer their time and donate to the cause what they can. However, not all of them knew George, but came aboard after realizing the good work the foundation does for local athletes and youth sports organizations.
"That's what's nice about having that amount of people involved," Cerrie said. "Even just for ideas. Some of the board members have never been around a golf tournament, so they don't know what to expect. Richie Ryan runs a golf tournament for Fredonia State every year. Pat Wheeler and Adam Dimitri, they play in golf tournaments all the time, so it's nice to have people to bounce ideas off of."
Making things easier on Cerrie and the rest of the board is the fact that getting help from local businesses has become easier each year.
"Times are definitely tough," Cerrie said. "And we understand that, but I think the vendors see what we do and they know that the money is good hands and is going to a good cause. We understand that the businesses can't give us everything for free, but they're good about giving us discounts or in-kind sponsorship. They're really receptive to it."
With all that goes into running and coordinating the softball tournament, the foundation's board members have found it much easier to put together the golf tournament.
"Our softball tournament, we have over 360 people in it every year," Cerrie said. "And we're doing T-shirts and coordinating with vendors and here it's nice because Shorewood is going to take care of the food, so we don't have to worry about that. They're going to set up the golf course for us and they've been very receptive to us and have helped us out a lot.
"Each year I try to emphasize to everyone to enjoy it," Cerrie continued. "Especially to those that are in charge and on the board, because of the stress we're under and we want everything to go right. It's tough with the softball tournament because there is always something going on. So I'm hoping that they'll be able to enjoy (the golf tournament) more and get more satisfaction out of it and have a fun day with it. Not that we don't have fun with the softball tournament, but there's some added stress there."
The tournament will use a four-person scramble format with a shotgun start set for noon. Lunch will precede tee-off with a dinner and raffle to follow the 18-hole event. The cost for each team is $400.
"To come out here and golf on a Sunday afternoon would cost you about $70," Cerrie said. "So for another $30 you're going to get lunch and dinner and refreshments and you're also going to be giving to a very good cause. A cause that not only helps children and kids in need who are going to college, it's also in memory of a great person. The look on his parents' faces and his family's faces every year when they see how well received it is just priceless."