High School Sports Traditions Mark 29 Years of Giving Back

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The local sports community is celebrating 29 years of bringing high school teams together for the benefit of the community.

Presented by the Winter Park High School Quarterback Club, the Coaches & Friends Toy Drive Challenge golf tournament is an opportunity for players, fans, and families to support a worthy cause. Coaches rally their players to organize toy drives and present the donations at the start of the event.

The tournament is organized by former Winter Park head coach Larry Gergley, current head coach Tim Shifflet, and director of football operations Johnny Miller.

“Basically, all the coaches got together and thought, ‘let’s have a toy drive with all the high schools to see who can bring in the most toys, and then we’ll play golf,'” Miller told the32789. “It’s a fun time, but the main thing was to challenge each school to bring as many toys as they can.”

The timing of the holiday season collides with a busy school calendar that also includes football playoffs. Organizing the event and finding a day when coaches can schedule time on the golf course can be a challenge, but the benefit overshadows the dilemma.

Miller, who is also events manager for the City of Winter Park, works with community centers, churches, and other organizations that distribute the donations where they are most needed.

“We always seem to cut it a little close just because of the timing,” said Miller. “I have the event date set for Dec. 17, so right after the event I organize pickup or delivery to the people who make sure the donations get where they need to go.”

The golf tournament is accompanied by another local sports event that accepts toys as a ticket.

Winter Park’s Showalter Stadium will host the FieldTurf Cure Classic All-Stars football game on Dec. 15 with high school players from Orange County playing against their counterparts from Seminole County. The event is also in its 29th year and was originally known as the East-West All-Star High School Football Game, but was renamed when a high-profile bowl game came onboard.

“The folks at the Cure Bowl knew about the game and how popular it had become, and about five years ago they piggybacked with us,” said Miller.

The All-Stars teams play the day before the Cure Bowl and includes players, marching bands, and cheerleaders from Seminole and Orange County high schools. Approximately 300 students from more than 40 high schools are expected to participate.

Admission for the FieldTurf Cure Classic All-Stars game is a donation of a new toy or a cash donation.

In an era where hardly anything is possible without social media and marketing support, the combined history of the golf tournament and all-star game has become their own publicity machine.

“We don’t go out and do promotions or rely on websites because it’s something we’ve done for 29 years,” said Miller. “People just know; word gets around and people show up.”

Despite the support, one concern does continue to weigh on Miller’s mind.

“People hear about a toy drive and they immediately think of little kids, but you have teenagers and older kids who are in need.” he said. “I know that the dynamics of the family have changed so I try to do whatever possible to spread it around to different groups.”

Pregame for the Dec. 15 FieldTurf Cure Classic All-Stars game starts at 6:30 p.m. with kickoff at 7 p.m. The Coaches and Friends Toy Drive Challenge golf tournament will be held at Rio Pinar Golf & Country Club on Dec. 17. For more information and opportunities to contribute, contact Johnny Miller at jmiller@cityofwinterpark.org or call 321-377-2986.

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