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KU football coach Charlie Weis' Hannah & Friends celebration a wild success during first year in Kansas
Over the weekend, I was one of a group of five or six media members who got the opportunity to participate in the Hannah & Friends 10th anniversary celebration at Prairie Band Casino and Firekeeper Golf Course, just north of Topeka.
Hannah & Friends, as most of you surely know by now, is the non-profit charity founded by Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis and his wife, Maura, to help individuals with special needs like their daughter Hannah.
Last summer, I did an in-depth story on Hannah & Friends and how it came to be, and, in the month or so that I worked on it, came away believing I knew just about all there was to know about the heart-felt charity.
But it wasn't until this past weekend, when I met people who have so graciously donated their time and money to the cause and saw the looks in the eyes of those for whom a weekend like this is an annual occurrence, that I really felt like I understood what Hannah & Friends was all about.
I've linked to last summer's story above for those of you who may have missed it or simply want to learn more about the wonderful things the folks at Hannah & Friends do, which I now know includes putting on one heck of a party.
Friday night was the dinner, dancing and donating portion of the event, where several people currently employed by KU mingled with people from the Weises past, both former players and longtime friends.
The Bronx Wanderers, a Weis family favorite, handled the musical entertainment and Hollywood actor and KU grad, Rob Riggle, joined Notre Dame alum and ESPN personality, Mike Golic, to handle the comedic and emceeing responsibilities. As you can probably imagine, neither guy was shy about saying what was on his mind and both did a nice job of keeping the room laughing and helping the good times flow.
The silent auction featured everything from swanky jewelry and KU memorabilia to autographed gear from current NFL stars Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III.
The dinner attracted more than 200 people, an impressive number for the first time in a new location. Of course, a big reason so many people showed up was the relationships they've built with Weis and his family throughout the years.
“Every year we make sure we have this weekend blocked out when we find out when Coach Weis is having his event and we're excited to be in Kansas for the first time,” said former Notre Dame tight end and current Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph. “This is our one reunion a year and it's awesome to get everybody back together, not only the players but a lot our old coaches who are at KU now. To see them and spend time with them and their families is a lot of fun.”
One of the most impressive parts about the event is how gracious the Weis family is in asking these people to join them in celebrating how far Hannah & Friends has come and dreaming about how much farther it can go.
The players and celebrities who attend are all welcomed as guests, with the Weis family picking up the cost of flying them in and putting them up in hotels. Most have plenty of money to be able to take care of such arrangements themselves, but the gesture means a lot to all of them and really speaks to the bond each one created with their former coach and/or friend.
“There are a ton of past players who come back to support him and I that's a big part of it, his relationship with them, whether it was at Notre Dame or Kansas or even back with the Patriots,” said former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who joined the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason. “He is that kind of special person and what he's been able to accomplish with Hannah & Friends speaks for itself and the type of person that he is.”
If the Friday night dinner was the Hannah & Friends prom, the Saturday golf outing was the after party.
I've played in plenty of golf scrambles during the past 10 years or so, but never one like this. The Hannah & Friends weekend was a first-class event all the way and never did that hit home as hard as on the gorgeous golf course at Firekeeper.
In addition to being played at an amazing — and difficult — course, the round featured an incredible array of edible delights.
There was food and drink on just about every hole. Everything from subs and tiramisu to pizza barbecue and desserts found a place on or around the tee boxes and, as if that weren't enough, there were carts coming around throughout the round to make sure you were well hydrated and happy. A couple of carts dragged around buckets of ice water full of towels that were handed out to the players to keep them cool and comfortable in the hot sun.
At the end of the day, Coach Weis' son, Charlie Jr., picked up his fourth tournament title in five years. It's become common knowledge that Charlie Jr., brings in all the talent he can to give his team the best chance of winning it. Obviously, his old man's not the only one in the family who can recruit.
Although Charlie Jr.'s crew brought home the hardware, the second- and third-place teams included a little KU flavor from a few years back, as Greg Gurley helped his team to third place and Wayne Simien was on the runner-up. After the event, Simien Tweeted that his team was coming for the title in 2014. KU coach Bill Self and most of Weis' coaching staff also participated in the golf scramble.
As for Team Media, we threw down a respectable 7-under par, not bad for a bunch of guys who are paid to write and talk about sports and not play them.
Everyone I talked to at the event said this year's edition was just as enjoyable as any of the nine that came before it and added that they were looking forward to returning a year from now for another 48 hours of fun.
With Hannah having moved into the Hannah & Friends property in South Bend, Ind., full-time a couple of weeks ago and the Weises settling into Lawrence more and more each day, there figures to be much more where this came from in northeast Kansas in the future.
"We would like to do more here," Weis said. "But we need to raise more here. We try to put the money back where it came from."
While Weis spared no expense to make sure the weekend was jam packed with laughs and memories start to finish, it was clear that nobody who attended lost sight of the reason everyone got together in the first place.
“I think the biggest thing is just the overall mission that they have and knowing Coach Weis and knowing how passionate he is about finding a way to take care of Hannah and knowing that there are other families out there who are in similar situations,” Quinn said. “I've made it a staple in my life to always do everything I can to help out this organization.”
Added current KU assistant, Rob Ianello, who worked with Weis at Notre Dame before rejoining his staff at Kansas: “When I first got with coach, he really brought me awareness to people with special needs and different abilities and how they learn and how people care for them. The gala (Friday) night was terrific, the weekend here, to see all of the KU people mixing in with some of our Notre Dame people from past experiences, it shows how this has really touched a lot of people from different walks of life.”