Corporate push helps Ed Block awards reach ever higher in bid to help others

John Steadman

March 09, 1993|By John Steadman

Banquet organizers have good intentions, but the result can be painful. It happens when a long night of oratory succeeds only in abusing an audience that has bought tickets to be entertained but is annoyed by prolonged introductions, followed by dull speeches. This is the perfect formula for spreading physical and mental torment.

So let's quickly turn attention to what happens tonight when the Ed Block Courage Awards are held for the 15th time at Martin's West. All 1,700 tickets have been sold. A glittering array of players from the NFL will be honored and appearances are to be made by two visiting Hall of Fame members, Bart Starr and Franco Harris, plus a can't-miss future enshrinee in Joe Montana.

Proceeds will go to helping protect and rehabilitate abused children at St. Vincent's Center. What the scoreboard shows is that the total amount raised by the sponsoring foundation, headed by board chairman Sam Lamantia, has reached $2,250,000. That's awesome.

There has never been a sports function held in this state that has approached such a momentous figure for any cause, be it charitable or for self-serving purposes. Lamantia and his group of volunteers deserve a booming civic salute.

How has this incredible story been possible? Selling tickets at $75 per admission can't generate the kind of money the banquet has accrued in a period of 15 years. Lamantia explains its extraordinary success by pointing to the corporate sponsors. They know what the event stands for, realize its importance and want to be offer support via participation.

Some businesses and industries offer major contributions, either monetarily or with services they are capable of rendering. For instance, American Airlines and its representative, Marty Kinsler, believe so much in the purpose that they bring the 28 players and some other guests to Baltimore on a complimentary basis.

Then the Tremont Suite Hotels provide 50 rooms for three nights. The Rusty Scupper Restaurant entertains the football visitors at numerous dinners and caters receptions at St. Vincent's, even putting on parties for the children throughout the year. WMAR-TV contributes air time in excess of $20,000 to help with the promotion. Bond Distributing Co., headed by Bob Footlick, is the national grant donor.

With this kind of support, Lamantia's organization is off and running. "But we also realize the responsibility that's expected from us," he emphasizes. "If we're to continue doing what we've achieved, then we must keep the sponsors with us. We have been disappointed in the past that some leading companies in Baltimore you might expect would like to be identified with this kind of project have pulled away.

"But then we recover by getting help from others that join us. They realize how important this effort is, the kind of quality banquet we present, how much interest there is in Baltimore in pro football and, of course, the humane purpose of assisting abused children."

Tom Matte, a former Baltimore Colt, is the non-paid president of the Block Foundation. He says: "This is going to be the best of all banquets because the popularity of it has exploded." And Lamantia adds the presence of Montana, the San Francisco 49ers' spectacularly precise quarterback, was an influence in selling out the dinner at its earliest date in history.

Lamantia, who owns a hair styling shop, became involved in 1975 when the Eastside Athletic Club, of which he was a member, took up the shield to help abused children. The fund-raiser was to spotlight a courageous Baltimore Colt. Then when the team deserted Baltimore, Lamantia, instead of backing off the idea, found a different format.

He took it to momentous heights, figuring a player from each NFL club could be brought here for the banquet. Lamantia solicited ideas from Ernie Accorsi, former Colts general manager, and Larry Harris of The Evening Sun, and both offered suggestions that became the building blocks for a momentous achievement.

The result? Abused children have been helped through the generosity of cooperating corporations and a public that buys the banquet tickets.

The Ed Block Courage Awards stand alone. Lamantia guards their integrity with an intensity reflected in unprecedented acceptance and popularity.

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