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First Drew Steele-Skip Holtz Golf Classic raises thousands


The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

All the mayhem and bustle created by one benefit golf tournament being simultaneously played at two Greenville country clubs Monday did nothing to muffle the exuberance – or the booming voice – of the 21-year-old man for whom the event was chiefly named.

Drew Steele's local legend status has grown steadily in the last decade or so. In fact, the former J.H. Rose High School bat boy – who spent Monday around a couple thousand people upon whom he's had perhaps a greater impact than he may ever realize – probably has attained every bit the VIP status around town as the other guy on the bill of the first Drew Steele-Skip Holtz Golf Classic.

Greg Eans/The Daily Reflector

East Carolina University head football coach Skip Holtz introduces Doug Martin, left, a PGA tour player for nine years, and Will Mackenzie, right, a current PGA player from Greenville, June 5 at Ironwood Golf Course during the Drew Steele/Skip Holtz Golf Classic.

The other guy, incidentally, is the second-year football coach at East Carolina University. He, along with Drew's father Mike Steele and a couple hundred other supporters of the two local icons, succeeded in what would seem to be leaps and bounds similar to the ones Drew Steele was making around the grounds at co-host Ironwood Golf and Country Club for most of the afternoon.

The younger Steele, who befriended Holtz in much the same was he does seemingly everyone in town – by being a relentless, dogged supporter of local sports teams – was the guest of honor like only he could be. He romped around with various companions as a vast field of foursomes competed both at Ironwood and Greenville country clubs for the cause of raising money and awareness for the Special Populations of Pitt County.

Holtz got a slightly different view of the day. He, too, bounded around Ironwood for most of the afternoon, but more in the way that a camp counselor tries to tail 100 screaming kids.

"It is a hectic day," said Holtz, who said he was at Ironwood first thing Monday morning, then Greenville and then back and forth throughout the day.

The event's chief organizer had the luxury of knowing when he woke up Monday morning, hours before the first tee times he likely wished he had one of, that his first major charitable event in the community had already succeeded.

At a dinner and auction Sunday night at ECU's Murphy Center, Holtz's efforts raised more than $100,000. It made an obviously hectic day a little easier.

"Three months ago we said, let's do a tournament," said Holtz. "From dinner last night, with the involvement and just the support, to out here at the golf course, it's really been overwhelming. It's been a great event, and we've already raised a lot of money for the special needs children in Pitt County. When we first started putting this thing together, this is what we envisioned from the standpoint of making it a first-class event."

As Ironwood reminds potential future customers in its commercials, there was more to the club than just golf Monday, and certainly more people involved than those just planning to hit the links.

In fact, golf seemed to be just another reason to spend at least some of Monday at one of the two clubs.

"I'm not a golfer, but I enjoy watching these guys tee off and seeing all of the camaraderie that is involved in a golf tournament," ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland said. "It's been a way for the community to come together and show how big Greenville's heart is, and how someone like Drew Steele can touch so many people."

Perhaps it is the way in which Steele, a Down syndrome sufferer, has chosen not to suffer that makes him such a magnetic personality. One way or the other, no one attending either Sunday's or Monday's events were in the dark about who Drew was.

In Holland's eyes, Steele is an important part of ECU tradition.

Greg Eans/The Daily Reflector

East Carolina University head football coach Skip Holtz shares a laugh with Drew Steel during the days leading up to the Drew Steele/Skip Holtz Golf Classic on June 5 in Greenville.

"A big part of what we do in terms of building a winning tradition and a winning attitude is bringing people into the fold, and certainly there is nobody better than Skip, but if there is, it's Drew Steele," said Holland.

There were some moments even Holtz had to stop and take in. He was one of the closest to the action when Greenville's Will MacKenzie, a current PGA Tour player, and former tour player Doug Martin gave a brief clinic at Ironwood's driving range.

Holtz looked as anxious as anyone while both MacKenzie and Martin rifled almost perfectly true shots, and tried to tell the onlookers how to make their own shots look similar.

Like Holtz, MacKenzie knew there was more to this outing than just squeezing in 18 holes.

"This is what I needed to do," said MacKenzie, still standing in the tee box after his demonstration. "I haven't really given back to the community, and this community has given me so much. So many people in this town have monetarily helped me, mentally helped me. It's time that I come back and give back. I'm hoping this will be an annual thing for me."

The goodwill initiative by Holtz and friends is truly only the beginning. The first tournament also helped give rise to the Drew Steele Greater Greenville Foundation, an endowment fund Holtz hopes will become a driving force behind establishing a permanent local facility specifically for special needs children.

A day spent around the Holtz's group of friends is a reminder of how many people Steele has touched with his undying good nature.

"He's a tremendous young man, and it's like (Holtz) always says, it doesn't matter what kind of day you're having, to be around him is uplifting," said East Carolina baseball coach Billy Godwin before he carted off to make his tee time. "He's been a great inspiration at East Carolina for all of our programs."

For slightly less accomplished golfers like Godwin, the day's great cause might have helped deter people's attention from some of the more unsightly shots.

A little more than a week removed from the end of the Pirates' baseball season, Godwin was touting his coaching colleague and the Steeles for their efforts and passion. He wasn't touting his fairway percentage, but he offered what could be a very viable excuse.

"I have no golf game," he said. "But the thing is, if you're a real good golfer, then maybe you're not a good coach. You'll see when I play, that I'm not a very good golfer."

Nathan Summers can be reached at (252) 329-9595 or at nsummers@coxnc.com.

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