DOVER — For a day dedicated to the seriousness of raising awareness and research funding to battle ALS, there was plenty of lighthearted ribbing and joking around.
About 130 people — including many former Ohio State standouts and NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders — attended a Celebrity Golf Outing to support The William White Family Fund for ALS that was conducted Monday at Union Country Club.
At least $75,000 was raised — well above the initial goal of $50,000, according to event organizer Mike Stokey of Dover.
“I can’t imagine it could’ve gone any better,” Stokey said. “The country club staff did a phenomenal job. With the athletes and volunteers — everybody — it came together. I kept waiting for something to go wrong, and nothing did. It was just fantastic.”
Stokey even announced a surprise auction — a pin flag from Union Country Club, which was signed by all of the celebrities there Monday. It sold for $6,100 to dentist Sean Mohn of Dover Dental Group, an Ohio State graduate and avid fan.
In 2016, White. a Lima Senior graduate, was diagnosed with ALS, a life-changing disease more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. About 6,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with ALS each year. Although ALS remains without a cure, you would never know it from talking to the effervescent White.
“It’s something that’s happening, but you have no control over it, so I don’t worry,” he said. “I enjoy each day. They say, ‘100 percent of people with ALS die,’ but everybody dies.”
If someone says that he can’t do something as well as he used to, he said, “What 52-year-old can do what they did when they were 22?”
White played for the Buckeyes from 1984-1987, and was a co-captain his senior season. Drafted by the Detroit Lions, he played in 11 NFL seasons with the Lions, Chiefs and Falcons before retiring.
He said that Stokey reached out to him and asked, “What can we do to help?” Stokey and his wife, Sue, became close friends with White and his family after they met on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. They found out that Sue was born on the exact same day and year as William, who jokes that she is his “older twin sister.” She was born at 10 a.m. and William at 11:30 a.m.
White told Stokey that the Detroit Lions talked about getting together some benefit golf outings next year. Stokey, who is president of the country club’s board of directors, said a golf outing could happen this year.
“In three or four months, this all came together,” White said. “It’s truly amazing to be here, especially when 99 percent of (the celebrities) asked, ‘Where is Dover, Ohio?’”
Union Country Club Director of Golf Sean Kenily said it rained from about 6 to 9 a.m. Monday, but golf course Superintendent Chad Schie “did a great job of getting the course ready.
“Close to 4 inches of rain fell over about 24 hours,” Kenily said. “All the celebrities said they enjoyed the golf course and the event, and had a great time.”
Volunteers assisting with the outing wore T-shirts with “White” and his number 37 on the back.
While signing an autograph during a social hour on the patio, Barry Sanders told the seeker, “Anything for William, man.” Sanders and Ohio State’s legendary running back Archie Griffin — the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy — were among the celebrities most approached for autographs and posing for photographs with those attending.
Sanders said the duo played five or six years together, and were not “just teammates. We spent quite a bit of time together. It was a no brainer for me to come here today.
“We’ve always stayed in touch, and he told me of his diagnosis. I said, ‘Definitely count me in.’ I was happy to drive down from Michigan,” said the resident of West Bloomfield. “William is a guy that people love. He doesn’t burn any bridges. I’m glad to see this turnout.”
Upstairs before dinner, former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel told about recruiting White, who was a great tailback at Lima Senior High School. He wanted to stay at tailback, but the Buckeyes had standout Keith Byars there, and the coaching staff wanted White to switch to cornerback.
White invited Coach Earle Bruce and Tressel to watch him play basketball and then to stop by his home. Tressel said they had him wrapped up. It turned out they didn’t, because White and his family wanted him to play tailback — the position that archrival University of Michigan was recruiting him to play. Silence prevailed throughout the long ride back to Worthington. Upon arrival, Bruce told Tressel to return to Lima because he had a lot of work to do. Tressel ended up getting White to play for Ohio State, where he started at cornerback in his first game.
While White — who started every game his four years at OSU — was known for his impact on the field, Tressel said that his real “impact was at home, his greatness started at home. He was bold in his faith and bold in what he believed in.”
Tressel, now the president of Youngstown State University, was known at Ohio State for his sweater vest and conservative style of play. He showed a much more outgoing, friendly nature among his former players.
He joked that “Raymont (Harris) almost committed homicide with his ball.”
Tressel said that “We all change,” adding that “(James) Laurinaitis looks like a 205-pound wide receiver” instead of his 250-pound playing weight at linebacker during his OSU and NFL career.
“We are so lucky and so blessed to be part of this game and this Buckeye Nation extending this support,” Tressel said. “William, we’re here because of you, but also because we know what’s important.”
Tressel talked about what’s ahead, “The Hall of Fame is only good as long as time shall be, but keep in mind God’s Hall of Fame is for eternity. … I promise William White will be in God’s Hall of Fame.”
The coach of Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship team said that over the years sometimes players got to thinking they were especially important, and there was a way to talk to them about it.
He asked Vince Workman, a 1988 team captain, how many people are on Earth? Workman said, “A lot.” Tressel said, “That’s right, 7 billion. And there are 300 million in the United States. And, 6.7 billion out of the 7 billion think that football is soccer. Think about that when you start thinking you’re important. Most people don’t even know who you are.”
Tressel also gave a rousing introduction to Pastor Dwight Mason of NewPointe Community Church, west of Dover. Mason then said, “That’s pressure.”
After Mason’s prayer, White went to the podium and received a standing ovation along the way.
“ALS is not about me. I’m fine. I’m in God’s hands,” White said. “People talk about having ALS means that you’re going to die. One hundred percent of people die.
“Thank you for this opportunity, for this golf outing. Enjoy life. Every day is a blessing. Live life to the fullest extent.”