Ryan family raises over $90,000 in fifth annual Celebrity Am

Photo by Craig Sager II

Five years ago, Matt Ryan set up his first Celebrity Am with the Sports Networking department of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, with the agreement that half the proceeds would go to the Matt Ryan Foundation and the other half would go to the Aflac Cancer Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Following the event and seeing first hand the type of impact this type of fundraising would have on young cancer patients, the Ryan Foundation sent its check to the Aflac Cancer Center. Now, for the fifth year, the Aflac Center received all the profits from the tournament, this time totaling over $90,000.

“Money can go in a lot of different directions, but in my personal opinion, there is no better place for your money to go than to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,” said Ryan

The event teed off with a 9:30 AM shotgun start as 29 fivesomes spread throughout Sugarloaf Country Club’s three nine hole courses to compete for the lowest round of 18. With an 80 percent chance of rain in the forecast, we were warned to listen for a siren to tell us we needed to go in, but the rain nor the siren never came. Instead, a cool and misty April afternoon set up near perfect conditions on the well-groomed course that will host the Champions Tour’s Greater Gwinnett Championship this week.

My father (Craig Sager) has played in Matt Ryan’s tournament multiple years, but his recent relapse with leukemia kept him from participating in it this year. I am nowhere near the experienced golfer (or dresser) he is, but they knew how much this tournament meant to him each year and they allowed me to fill in. I joined a team that included Georgia Tech’s all-time assist leader, Drew Barry, and nine-year NFL pro and former Atlanta Falcon Coy Wire, now CNN’s Sports Correspondent.

The PGA-level course got the best of our group. Barry kept us as close to shooting par as he could in the modified scramble format. He was clearly one of the better golfers on the course today, but it was just not our day. We birdied three of the four par threes and Barry even stole a longest drive from former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, but we could not even break par on the back nine and knew we had no shot at placing in the top 3 teams.

Before we had stepped on the course at 9:30 AM, Ryan had already been at morning workouts at Flowery Branch and even stopped by the range to get in a few practice cuts. He was definitely warmed up and he and four teammates; Brian Betkowski, Robert Amberg, Don Hallacy and Brian Mikes took first place.

“Never win your own tournament,” joked event emcee and Falcons legendary play-by-play sportscaster Wes Duram.

The first place prize was a football autographed by Ryan himself that Ryan personalized and later gave to the tournament’s youngest guest.

“Good teammates are always the key,” smiled Ryan after holding up his prize. “I was able to get the muscles firing before hitting the course with our morning workouts so that helped too.”

The event would not be complete without a look at the impact it has in the community and cancer survivor Justin Berry out of Hall County was the voice that shared his inspirational story.

“I thank God for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,” said Berry. “They saved me and were there to walk me and my family through it every step of the way.”

Berry, a black belt, and avid runner, collapsed with a shooting pain in his leg last August. After several misdiagnoses, it was finally discovered that Berry had osteosarcoma in his tibia, bone cancer.

He took the podium to share the journey he took with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta once he found he had cancer. Once the plan was set, Berry battled through seven months of chemo that contained the cancer to the point where his tibia could be reconstructed with a donation from a cadaver. Now, one bone transplant later, Berry was up on his feet in crutches and proudly showing off the scar that saved his life. Ryan handed Berry the personally autographed first-place football after his moving speech and also had an autographed baseball from Chipper Jones for him.

“Having done this for five years now and doing two events annually with different kids that can speak about the hospitals they’ve been at with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta puts this in perspective,” explained Ryan. “It shows everyone why they are here today. Sure they are here to have a good time and meet people they are looking forward to seeing, but at the end of the day, it is about an organization that gives so much back. When we can come together and raise this much, it is very rewarding, but at the same time, you can never raise enough.”

Ryan’s annual events raise between $250,000-$300,000 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.


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