A hole in one for the Special Olympics

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

The game was golf, but it was all about shooting for a goal.

And in the end, Katie Kenney of St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village and Elizabeth Close from Church of the Nativity in Leawood tallied more than 75 service hours organizing a golf tournament to benefit Special Olympics and exceeded their goal of raising $1,000 by 460 percent.

The two sophomores have been best friends since attending grade school together at St. Ann. But when it came time for high school, they chose different paths — Katie went on to St. Teresa Academy in Kansas City, Mo., while Elizabeth chose St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park.

Despite the distance between their schools, the girls and their families have maintained close ties. And last summer, when Katie decided to take on the challenge of organizing a golf tournament to benefit Special Olympics, Elizabeth was the first person she turned to for help.

Katie’s mother had a sister with Down syndrome who died at a young age from leukemia, so her family has always contributed to Special Olympics.

“My dad did the tournament a couple of summers ago and he wasn’t going to have time to do it this summer,” Katie explained. “I didn’t want to see it die.”

The girls’ fathers, both avid golfers, happily shared their expertise, but it was Katie and Elizabeth who planned, organized and executed the tournament. The girls said they started from scratch, took one step and a time, and — like so many things in life — wound up doing a lot more work than they anticipated.

But it was well worth it.

The planning began last summer and by December, the girls were contacting golf courses. They chose Prairie Highland Golf Course in Olathe because of the staff’s enthusiasm for the tournament and its support of Special Olympics.

Once the course was chosen, it had to be reserved with a deposit. That quickly moved the project from dream to reality, as it required the girls to start soliciting sponsors and recruiting players to raise the deposit.

“We made two flyers — one for the sponsors that we mailed out and dropped off on doorsteps,” explained Katie, “and we had one for players that we gave to friends, mailed to our address books. We also put them on cars at Mass.”

The girls spent several days asking area businesses for their support. In addition to sponsorships, they managed to get the food for the dinner donated, as well as prizes for a raffle.

Forty-nine golfers committed to playing in the tournament. Many who could not take time off work to play made donations instead.

Soliciting funding, the girls agreed, was one of the most challenging aspects of the whole event.

“You kind of have to annoy people to get what you asked them for,” explained Elizabeth. “It was hard for me to follow up with people because I don’t like pestering people for money.” But eventually, the day of the tournament dawned beautiful, sunny and mild, and the tournament went as smoothly as the weather.

Of course, the girls had left little room for error.

“We were pretty organized the whole time — we had it all down exactly the way we wanted it to happen,” Elizabeth said. “We were probably over-prepared.”

On hand to help register golfers, sell raffle tickets and help monitor the progress of the tournament was Katie Burngardt, one of Elizabeth’s classmates at St. Thomas Aquinas and a St. Joseph, Shawnee, parishioner.

Even the girls’ moms, Laura Kenney and Margaret Close, got in on the fun, by catering the dinner of hot dogs, brats, chips and ice cream that concluded the event.

“It was pretty funny to watch them grill,” recalled Elizabeth with a laugh. “We went through a couple of burnt hot dogs that we had to throw away. But they finally got the hang of it.”

Although the tournament turned out to be more work than the girls expected, so, too, did the reward. The final tally for the benefit event was a total of $5,600 for Special Olympics, which was presented to Jana Fornelli, vice president of development for the organization. Fornelli was touched and grateful for the effort Katie and Elizabeth put into the fundraiser.

“I think it’s wonderful that young people do want to get involved and help the community,” Fornelli said. “It’s a huge impact for special Olympics — not only the financial fundraising, but the awareness they’re spreading about Special Olympics athletes. We truly appreciate their efforts.”

What now? Katie and Elizabeth are both interested in hosting a golf tournament next year, but are biding their time before bringing up the topic.

“We need to give our dads a break,” explained Elizabeth frankly. “They’re a little tired of it, I think.

“But maybe if we ask at the right time…”

Leave a Reply