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Hall of Fame sports celeb panel

In my last blog I wrote about a charity tournament I was involved with. It took place Thursday (Oct. 28) at Sierra La Verne Country Club, and I was in charge of lining up celebrities and publicizing the event.

Larry Stewart

Larry Stewart

Well, things couldn’t have gotten any better, and a number of Arcadia-area golfers participated. Terry McCullom, who owns the Station bar on Baldwin Avenue, paid for a foursome that included Wayne Busick, whose family is well known in Temple City. But the key thing was that four of the 50 players named by the NBA as the greatest in its history showed up – Jerry West, Bill Sharman, James Worthy and Elgin Baylor. Other celebrities included former UCLA basketball coach Jim Harrick, UCLA football announcers Chris Roberts and Matt Stevens, Dodger legends Bill Russell, Al Downing and Tommy Davis, plus Michael Young, a former outstanding NFL wide receiver who is now the Dodgers’ Chief Revenue Officer.

The tournament benefited Sowing Seeds for Life, which helps feed the needy in the San Gabriel Valley.

(Editor’s note: Brian McNerney, president of the La Verne Chamber of Commerce, praised Larry in an e-mail to event organizers, saying that “Larry did a great job gettting the celebrities to commit and then actually show up. The fact they stayed until the end was amazing!! He also called the panel that Larry describes below as a home run.)

L-r: James Worthy, Al Downing, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Jim Harrick, Larry Stewart, Vicki Brown (CEO of Sowing Seeds for Life), Greg DeSmet (chairman of key sponsor DPI Labs), Jerry West, Al Snow (tournament co-chairman), Bill Dwyre, and Tim Grant (tournament co-chairman).

All-Star panel The highlight of the post-tournament festivities was an all-star panel Q&A session moderated by Bill Dwyre, the longtime sports editor of the Los Angeles Timeswho is now a sports columnist. On the panel were West, Worthy, Harrick and Russell. Baylor had to leave early because of a prior commitment and Sharman, 84, is still a bit frail from recent heart surgery and also has had voice problems since he was coaching the Lakers in the 1970s. West talked about how, at this stage of his life, he didn’t want to be remembered as simply a basketball player. He wanted to be remembered as someone who gives back. In May 2009, West accepted the job as executive director of the Northern Trust Open PGA tournament at Riviera because of the charity aspect of the event. Special Olympics is a major beneficiary. The next Northern Trust Open is Feb. 14-20. West said he has made more than 70 appearances at charity events in the past six months. His latest was in La Verne, and he drove there from his home in Bel-Air.

Jerry West lost in Arcadia West brought Sharman and Sharman’s wife Joyce with him, and they got lost — in Arcadia. The three of them were talking and were afraid they missed the Foothill Blvd. exit in La Verne and got off the freeway. When I called to find out where they were, Joyce Sharman said they had no idea. West put his window down and asked the driver in another car, “What town is this?” The driver said, “Arcadia.” Wonder if that person knew who he was talking to?

Harrick’s highlight Anyway, back to the panel session. Harrick talked about playing for a rival high school of West’s high school in West Virginia. They are both 72. “We beat Jerry’s team when he was a sophomore and junior,” Harrick said. “He put up 46 points and killed us when he was a senior.” Harrick also talked about UCLA’s championship run in 1995, which included Tyus Edney’s amazing full-court run and basket against Missouri with 4.7 seconds left. Harrick was aware of Edney’s speed and during a time-out told him what he wanted him to do. Harrick said  he then asked him, “Tyus, do you have a crystal clear understanding of what I just said?” And Edney replied, “Yes, you just told me you want me to shoot the ball.” Edney responded by going coast to coast and banking in the game-winner at the buzzer. “That was the defining moment of my career,” Harrick told the audience at Sierra La Verne.

Worthy and the other great Bill Russell Worthy was asked if he had ever considered coaching. “You have to have a real passion for coaching, and I didn’t have that kind of passion for coaching,” he said. “I did have that kind of passion for playing.” When Dwyre introduced the panel, he said, “We have four basketball legends here, including the great Bill Russell. Oh I’m sorry, you’re the other Bill Russell.” Russell said he played basketball in high school in Broken Arrow, Okla., not baseball, and was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Kansas. “So you got it right,” Russell said. “I was also a basketball player.” Russell talked about that famous Dodger infield of him, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Ron Cey that was together for nearly a decade. “Because of free agency, I don’t think we’ll ever see that again,” he said. The panel discussion went on and on, long past its allotted 20 minutes. When Dwyre asked if it was time to wrap things, tournament coordinator Tim Haas said, “No, no. You can go on forever.” The audience, hanging on every word, applauded.

Stewart with fellow tournament committee member Joey Tafolla, who arrived in a stretch limo.

Generous donations West arrived a little late – he came for just the dinner – and got a standing ovation upon entering the dining room at Sierra La Verne. He almost immediately, before even sitting down, announced he would donate his four personal tickets, plus parking pass, to any Laker game and an autographed jersey as an auction prize if the bid was at least $2,000. The package went for $2,600. Earlier in the day, as the players were headed to their carts, one fan donated $500 to the charity so that he could ask Baylor to autograph a basketball. A young man who arrived late to the dinner donated $1,000 just for the privilege of being in the same room as West and the others.

Sowing Seeds for Life To say the tournament was a success would be an understatement. Considering the lineup of celebrities and all the perks involved, the $150-per-player entry fee was quite a bargain. The money raised that benefits Sowing Seeds for Life, a non-profit organization, goes toward providing food for people in difficult situations due to illness, accident or misfortune. Sowing Seeds for Life (SSFL) began distributing food in December 2007 to some 100 people a month in the La Verne area and now serves more than 5,000 a month. This was the second year of the SSFL tournament, and was taken to a higher level by an energetic tournament committee headed by co-chairmen Tim Grant and Al Snow.

Bonus treats The post-tournament festivities – which were fast-paced and fascinating, to say the least — also featured complimentary cocktails, a tri-tip and chicken dinner, a live jazz band and some incredible auction and raffle prizes. Auction items included Dodger, Angel and NHRA packages – and much more. Besides the four Laker tickets donated by West, there were four $270 Laker tickets donated by the team’s executive vice president, Jeanie Buss, plus a Pau Gasol autographed ball. Other tournament highlights included a helicopter golf ball drop with a first prize of $1,500 (for the ball closest to the hole) and a $500 consolation prize (for the ball farthest from the hole), a professional magician from the Magic Castle, two long-drive experts, on-course beer and soft drinks and margaritas and more. Haas, the president of Tournament Golf & Travel, coordinated last year’s inaugural SSFL tournament and was brought back to again take care of details and make sure everything went smoothly. And it did. Haas credits an outstanding golf tournament committee for making it all happen. The driving force behind the golf tournament is Vicki Brown, the president of DPI Labs, Inc. of La Verne and CEO of Sowing Seeds for Life. At one point during the evening festivities, Vicki was seen brushing away tears. They were no doubt tears of joy.


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