Fund-raiser to carry on the spirit of Steadman

September 04, 2001|By Michael Olesker

NOW COMES the hour when John Steadman's death matters as well as his life.

Cancer took the life of Baltimore's longtime newspaper sports voice New Year's Day, and next Tuesday the American Cancer Society will honor Steadman with a golf tournament -- the John Steadman Tournament of Hope at Beechtree Golf Club in Aberdeen. The tournament's proceeds will benefit the Hope Lodge, the American Cancer Society's "home away from home" for cancer patients.

John would have loved the idea. In his half-century writing columns for the dearly departed News American, and the dearly departed Evening Sun, and The Sun, he wrote not merely about home runs and blocked punts, but triumphs of the human spirit. He was a champion of the underdog and a rallying voice for those in trouble.

The golf tournament is the American Cancer Society's attempt to carry on that spirit and raise an anticipated $80,000 for the Hope Lodge -- assisted by some of the athletes whose lives John chronicled.

Appropriately, the tournament began coming to life one chilly night last winter, at the Valley Country Club owned by Baltimore Colt Hall of Famer Artie Donovan and his wife, Dorothy. Donovan reminded everybody of the times Steadman had extended himself for those up against it.

"There was nobody like John Steadman," said Donovan, who knew Steadman since he'd signed with the Colts 50 years earlier and John was working as the club's public relations person. "If there was a cause, if somebody needed some help, he was always there."

Then Brooks Robinson, the Orioles Hall of Famer, said, "John was one of the most genuine people who ever lived, and one of the most generous."

Around the room were concurring voices including former Colt Jim Mutscheller, former Maryland quarterback Jack Scarbath, sportscasters Jim McKay and Vince Bagli. They were all friends with Steadman, and they all remembered his acts of generosity.

And there was a young woman there, too, accompanied by a few folks from the American Cancer Society. She was 19, and hoping to live past her teens. She'd enrolled in college a year earlier, full of big hopes -- and discovered, weeks later, that she had cancer.

For a few minutes, she talked about getting the stunning news, and trying to cope with it as she withdrew from school and from all her friends. And she talked about her months of treatment, and recovery, and her hopes that the worst was behind her.

She wore something over her head, where she'd lost her hair. And she talked about the comfort she'd found while staying at the Hope Lodge, designed for patients and their families who come from all over the world to Baltimore for treatment.

"Many of them," said Steve Jones, spokesman for the American Cancer Society, "can't afford the cost of an indefinite hotel stay in a place far from home."

The Hope Lodge, opened in Baltimore 15 years ago, offers free accommodations to patients and their families.

"And it gives them an opportunity to share their everyday lives with other patients who are going through the same experiences," Jones said.

Among those who will play golf at next week's tournament are some of the athletes who surrounded Steadman over the years, including John Unitas, Ordell Braase and Bruce Laird of the Colts, and Robinson and Rick Dempsey of the Orioles.

A cocktail reception and dinner, emceed by Jim McKay, will follow the tournament. And to raise additional funds for the Hope Lodge, there will be a silent auction on such items as a football signed by Baltimore Colts Hall of Famers Unitas, Donovan, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, Jim Parker and Gino Marchetti, and a baseball signed by Robinson.

The American Cancer Society has also invited people to honor the memory of a loved one by purchasing a dedication flag for the golf tournament. The flags, which cost $25 each, will be placed along the fairways of Beechtree Golf Club. (They can be purchased from SunSource at The Baltimore Sun by calling 410-332-6800.)

One afternoon near the end of his life, as friends gathered around Steadman in his room at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he said, "Heck, lots of people have worse luck than this."

He was uncomfortable with too much fuss. He knew he was dying, but he still had concern for the living. The Tournament of Hope attempts to carry on in that spirit -- and fight the disease that took John Steadman's life.

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