What started as a fun get together for teammates on a local softball team has become an annual event that’s making an impact for those in need of a helping hand on the Coast.
The event is Spiders’ Charity Golf Classic, which is entering its 22nd year of existence.
The list of people who have received charitable gifts from the Spiders tournament is a lengthy one and those involved in the charity golf tournament are constantly looking for new ways to make more of an impact on the community.
Since its creation in 1997, Spiders’ Charity Golf Classic has raised in excess of $420,000 for local families.
It all started with a planned party for former teammates on a softball team sponsored by Spiders’ Restaurant and Lounge, which was owned by Robert “Slim” Mount. The plans evolved from a 50th birthday celebration for Rusty Ramage, one of the event’s founders, into a fundraising effort when they learned that a son of a former teammate, Kai Thrash, was suffering from cystic fibrosis at the age of 19.
“We decided to get our golfers together, ex-ballplayers, and put on a golf tournament and raise some money,” Ramage said. “The first year we did it, we raised $2,500. Everybody thought it was a very good deal to help somebody so we said, ‘OK, we’ll try it against next year.’ In 1998, we got out and got some more sponsorships and generated more money. We got to where it’s a tradition. We’ve done it every year for the last 20 years.
“We reach out to the community to give help to those who need financial assistance or need some money to help pay medical expenses, anything to improve quality of life, whatever we can do to make life better during whatever time they may have left remaining. In some cases, that’s a short period of time. Many other people are still living.”
‘Make a difference’
The event’s organizers follow the motto, “We can make a difference,” as they gather in January each year to begin preparations for the event. The tournament now raises money for a community outreach program, a college scholarship and the Gulf Coast Public Safety Feed the Needy program.
The most important decision tournament organizers have to make each year is settling on the Honored Recipient. It all started with Thrash, who died in 2000. There is usually one Honored Recipient for each tournament, but this year’s event in April had four – Sinclair Shoemaker (hypoplastic left heart syndrome), Gracie Seymour (brain tumor), Richard Flemming (leukemia) and Regina Winters (throat cancer).
Seymour is among the Honored Recipients who have been on hand at the tournament to interact with those participating in the event and thank them for their generosity.
“The golfers liked being able to see her,” said Heath Seymour, father of the 9-year-old Gracie. “If you’d look at her, other than a little hair loss, you wouldn’t know. She’s looks like a perfectly healthy child. We keep praying that’s how it stays.
“(The tournament) was an awesome thing. You could tell they have their stuff together.”
Seymour is not the only young recipient who has been on hand for the tournament.
“When it’s a child, it compounds it so much,” said Alva Bennett, a tournament organizer. “They’ve gone through all kinds of things. It’s overwhelming sometimes.”
Also on hand for this year’s tournament was Flemming, a Long Beach resident who has watched the medical bills pile up as he continues his fight leukemia.
“My bills were getting outrageous between (Gulfport’s Memorial Hospital), (Ochsner Medical Center) and M.D. Anderson,” Flemming said. “It was getting pretty tight. I got on disability about a year ago and my disability check was $2,000 and I had a medical copay of $1,200. Try to figure out how you’re going to pay bills with $800. My beautiful wife over here, we get her Social Security check. I’ll tell you what, it was pretty lean. I’m in my 401K and she emptied out her 401K.”
Ramage was the one who informed Flemming that he would be an Honored Recipient.
“I said a thank you to the man upstairs and everybody involved with Spiders,” Flemming said. “I went down to the tournament I felt a little guilty because there was a child there. I’m 60 years old now. I’ve lived a pretty good life. Maybe I want to give up my portion to her, and then I said, ‘No, we need help.’ That check came in and helped us catch up on our Ochsner bill.”
For the community good
It also sometimes hits close to home for those who take part in the tournament. Spiders committee member Mark Jenner’s brother, Michael, was the Honored Recipient in 2008 as he battled Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 2012.
When Mark Jenner moved back to the Coast from Florida, he approached Rusty about getting involved with Spiders.
“One, it’s part of my brother’s legacy, but it’s something that does good in the community every year,” he said. “I’m retired and I support three charities or nonprofits on the Coast. One is Spiders. I’m on the board for Habitat for Humanity and I do stuff for the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. With Spiders, I get more out of a weekend with Spiders and handing someone money that actually makes a difference than a lot of the other stuff I do. It’s not that it’s not important and not impactful, but I see the person. I sit out there and listen to a recipient talk about how (the money) will make a difference in their life.”
The tournament, which has found a home at Sunkist Country Club, has a strong family vibe to it. The tournament’s trophy features names of tournament participants who are no longer living and the event’s Honored Recipients.
The tournament relies on volunteer help, including from the Gulfport High School robotics team, to make sure the tournament takes place each year.
A goal is to acquire 501(c)(3) status so the tournament, which takes place the second weekend in April each year, can gain a corporate sponsor.
“We really need help with that,” Ramage said. “We do a lot for the community with limited funding.”
Spiders’ Charity Golf Classic
Past Honored Recipients:
2017 - Sinclair Shoemaker, Gracie Seymour, Richard Flemming, Regina Winters
2016 - Donny Faeber, Kylee Garrison
2015 - Nicole Gilbert
2014 - Brianna Medina
2013 - Michelle Gibbs
2012 - Tiffany Murray
2011 - Jeff Haskin, Bobby Jones
2010 - Brantley Grimes
2009 - Madison Saucier
2008 - Michael Jenner
2007 - Tim Musial
2006 - Delores Boudreaux
2005 - Chase Poirrier
2004 - Tammy Mayfield, Steve Ladner
2003 - Kayla Dyson
2002 - Genice Dill
2001 - Mark Rickman, James Rickman
2000 - Mark Landry
1999 - Tim Griffin
1998 - Darryl Hunter
1997 - Kai Thrash
About the series:
Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.