April 30, 2013

Golf Players Share Special Connection with Local Make-A-Wish Child

 DAHLONEGA, Ga. – For the last nine years, NCAA Division II has raised over $2.4 million dollars for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, helping to grant wishes for children suffering from life-threatening illnesses. Every 40 minutes, the foundation grants a wish to a child with wishes ranging from getting to serve as a police officer for a day, to taking a family trip, to even scoring a touchdown for the kid’s favorite team.

For most people, they do not always have the chance to associate a face with those who benefit from the funds, but the University of North Georgia golf teams received a special treat on Friday, Apr. 12 as both teams hosted a special guest at their home match at Achasta Golf Club and were able to see first hand why so much is made of this great organization.

Robert Hart, a wish recipient from nearby Flowery Branch, Ga., visited the teams on that Friday and helped get the match started.  Robert is undergoing treatment for Leukemia and recently took a trip with his family to Disney World as part of his wish.

But why would Robert want to visit North Georgia’s golf teams?

Well, the reason begins with Robert’s affinity for miniature golf, includes North Georgia leading the nation for the past two years in funds raised and is further enhanced by a shared connection. Two of North Georgia’s women’s golfers, Bridget Sandy and LeeAnn Noble, are also former wish recipients.

Sandy, a freshman from Lilburn, Ga., also battled Leukemia for two years and then went to Disney World and on a Disney cruise following her battle with the disease. Noble, a sophomore from Gainesville, Ga., went to both Disney World and New York City following her recovery after undergoing a heart transplant.

"The Make-A-Wish Foundation allowed me and my family the privilege to go to Disney World and on a Disney cruise after my two and a half-year battle with Leukemia,” said Sandy. “My dream of meeting Mickey Mouse was more than fulfilled and having my wish granted made fighting for my life so rewarding. This incredible foundation works miracles for those who have beat the odds, and I am grateful to be one of those individuals as well as to attend a university that raises a lot of money for such an amazing cause."

Noble said, "Make-A-Wish gave me the chance to celebrate such a blessing that helped save my life. It gave me the opportunity to take a break from reality and get to experience things that any normal person could do. I am truly thankful for all that they gave to me."

Robert started his day meeting the teams and people associated with North Georgia athletics while sharing a lunch on the back deck of Achasta’s clubhouse. All smiles and a little shy, Robert talked and shared stories and laughs with those gathered around helped along by his mother and younger brother and sister.

Following lunch, Robert had the chance to show off his miniature golf skills on the putting green, sinking golf balls left and right while getting a few pointers from head men’s golf coach Tom Fowler. Robert even passed some of his own knowledge off to several of the women’s golfers practicing on the green.

Robert’s time with the teams ended as Fowler gathered everyone around for the pre-match meeting where Robert wished all the competitors “Good luck” before sinking the ceremonial first putt. Then, it was off to the tee box to watch the student-athletes hit the links.

"It is for moments like that Friday why NCAA Division II institutions come together to raise so much money," stated Director of Athletics Lindsay Reeves. "To give a child, like Robert, a chance to live out dreams so they can have the strength and courage to continue to battle on and to show us what it means to live life to the fullest. To meet Robert and spend the afternoon with him was a true blessing as his spirit and bright smile was contagious. He is truly an extraordinary young man! To think that our student-athletes were a part of granting Robert his wish to visit Disney Land and create such fond memories for him is very special."

Rarely is it realized where the money donated goes to. But, with three shining examples so close to home, it certainly makes what the Make-A-Wish Foundation is doing seem that much better.



Director of Athletics Lindsay Reeves introduces Robert to the players prior to the match.

Head men's golf coach Tom Fowler gives Robert some pointers.

Robert sinks a practice putt prior to his honorary first putt.

The Saint women take a moment to pose for a picture with Robert.

The Saint men have their picture taken with Robert.

Robert sinks the honorary first putt to get the match started.