By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
On December 3, 2011, retired Vanderbilt head football coach Bobby Johnson found himself playing flag football with a group of children from the Shaw Community Center on the beach on Sullivan’s Island.
The former Clemson player and career football coach, who grew up in Columbia, had chosen to retire that year to the Isle of Palms with his wife, Catherine, a Charleston native. Within a few weeks of his arrival some enterprising College of Charleston students had tracked him down and sought his advice on a semi-professional football team they were trying to put together. Kekoa Lee and Steven Baller wanted the team, Charleston Man of War, to be a grassroots, community effort, and had brought a group of children from the downtown Charleston community center to the beach for a day of flag football.
“They had a ball,” Johnson said. “The guys had talked some off-duty policeman into escorting them out there like they were the Charleston Man of War. We had all the equipment and everything out there on the beach and the kids just had a fantastic day.”
Johnson was struck by the fact that for some of these boys, who had grown up in Charleston, this was their first time at the beach.
“Most of them came from the same neighborhood and most of them could use help,” he said. “This looked like a rarity for them so I decided to see if we could help them some more.”
Johnson put his head together with Lee, Baller and local author Laura Fogerty to come up with the idea of a charity golf tournament to raise funds for two youth-related local charities: The Lowcountry Food Bank Children’s Programs and The Dee Norton’s Lowcountry Children’s Center, dedicated to preventing child abuse and healing those affected.
Instead of the traditional fundraising golf tournament, Johnson put his football know-how to good use and devised a unique fundraising formulae he calls “Draft-A-Celebrity.”
“We have a website people can go to, www.draftacelebrity.com, and bid money for the chance to choose the celebrity they want to play golf with at the tournament,” Johnson said. “Whoever bids the most money gets the first ‘pick’ of the celebrities on our list.”
The tournament will be held Saturday, February 15 at the Kiawah Island Ocean Golf Course, one of the top 10 courses in the country. There are 22 celebrities currently “eligible” for the draft including:
Steve Spurrier, Gamecocks Head Football Coach
Chad Morris, Clemson Offensive Coordinator
Brian Dawkins, former Clemson Tiger and Philadelphia Eagle
George Rogers, former Gamecocks Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl winner
Catherine Bell, actor, Army Wives, JAG
Cam Gigandet, actor, Twilight, The O.C.
Eric Bass, bass guitarist for Shinedown
Bill Murray, award-winning actor and comedian
Willie Robertson, Duck Dynasty star
Johnson also convinced his Isle of Palms neighbors and fellow football coaches Ralph Friedgen (University of Maryland) and Fisher DeBerry (Air Force Falcons) to put themselves up for auction.
Would-be participants need to log on to www.draftacelebrity.com put in their bids. Then, when the first round closes on February 1, those in the top 25 will be given the opportunity to up their bid to secure a higher draft pick.
For more information, to bid to play with a celebrity, donate funds or volunteer to help the organization visit www.draftacelebrity.com. To watch a video of Bobby Johnson coaching the children that December day visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JPuTYyIGc0.