POLAND – With celebrities from golf and other sports promising to be in attendance and all tickets sold in advance, the Annika Fore East Palestine benefit is already a success.
The fundraiser will take place Monday, May 15, at The Lake Club golf course in Poland.
It was organized by Mike McGee and his wife, golf great Annika Sorenstam, and Ed Muransky, owner of the Muransky Companies.
Those who bought in to play as a foursome will be on the course with Sorenstam and fellow golf pros Ben Curtis and Jason Kokrak. Curtis and Kokrak are Ohioans who live in the Cleveland area; Kokrak is a graduate of Warren JFK High School.
McGee is the son of the late golf great Jerry McGee and a native of East Palestine.
Elsewhere on the Lake Club grounds, several celebrities with local ties will hold court at different locations. The list includes boxing champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, pro and college football coach Bob Stoops, former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, former Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.
All proceeds will be forwarded to The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and The Way Station, which will disburse the money into the East Palestine community based on need.
While the amount raised won’t be revealed until the evening of the golf event, it’s sure to be a lot: The 34 foursomes registered to play paid between $20,000 and $5,000, and another 200 people paid $500 to attend but not golf.
Muransky describes the response as “overwhelming,” and noted that the organizers only had a matter of weeks to put the event together.
“It will be a very relaxed event,” he says. Sorenstam will have a question-and-answer clinic before the golfers take to the course.
“[The organizers] put ourselves into the shoes of the participants,” Muransky says. “Every one of our sponsors and patrons will be able to spend time with the celebrities. It will be a golf outing meets a wonderful fun day on the course.”
Canfield-based marketing professional Jeff Ryznar, who is handling the day-of-event details, explains what participants can expect.
“Annika will stay at the No. 9 hole and will be there for photos or to take a shot with the foursomes,” he says.
Curtis and Kokrak will be stationed at other holes and will hit a shot for each passing foursome, be it a drive, a chip or a putt. The foursomes will play in a scramble format.
The celebrities who aren’t golfing will be set up in tents on the grounds. Each ticket buyer will get a packet of cards that can be used for collecting autographs.
Golfing will begin at noon. Afterward, a cocktail hour will start at around 5 p.m., with dinner to follow.
The check presentation will take place at approximately 7 p.m. and a live auction will follow.
Ryznar echos Muransky’s sentiments about the response from residents.
“We didn’t know what kind of support it would garner but it was absolutely amazing,” he says. “We knew the interest would be there but to have sold out in less than a week and to get the number of sponsors to support it and to just have people buy tickets and celebrities come… It’s been overwhelming. When the eyes of the world are on Youngstown, that’s when we shine the brightest.”
The idea for the event came shortly after the Feb. 3 derailment of a train in East Palestine that spilled toxic substances into the land and air, grabbing headlines across the country.
At a press conference in March to announce the event, Sorenstam explained how the ball got rolling.
“Mike and I wanted to do something to help his hometown during this time of need, and [Muransky] was his first call. He’s very philanthropic and ran with the idea,” Sorenstam said.
Sorenstam said she and her family have visited East Palestine many times over the years. Both of their children were baptized in the city with their receptions taking place at The Lake Club.
“This fundraiser brings us full circle,” she noted.
For McGee, the tragedy in his hometown was personal.
“I grew up in East Palestine, right behind the high school,” he said during the March press conference. “My mom also grew up there and taught at the middle school for over 20 years. My father played in the PGA tour and could have lived anywhere [but lived in East Palestine].”
McGee and Sorenstam, who live in Florida, were at a golf tournament in Portugal when they heard the news of the derailment.
The fundraising campaign will offer people across the country a chance to contribute directly to the effort. Money, materials and other items can be donated through the official website, AnnikaForeEastPalestine.com.
Pictured at top: Pictured at top: Annika Sorenstam and her husband, Mike McGee, along with their children, William and Ava.