Corporations Respond To Sports Awards

April 11, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Tom Izzo seems to have drawn a full-corporate press, and that means a local charity should be able to run up the score.

The popular Michigan State University men’s basketball coach will be the special guest speaker for the upcoming Fifth Annual West Michigan Sports Awards, a fundraiser for the March of Dimes on April 10.

The awards show features a reception, a dinner and a silent auction of sports memorabilia and non-sports items. But the big news is that for the first time in its short history, the event has to be held in a larger venue because the business community’s request for tickets has set an event record.

So this year, the grand evening moves to the spacious Amway Grand Plaza Hotel as area companies already have purchased 30 tables. Last year, the event sold 13.

“We’re two to three times over last year’s amount, and the response, so far, has been great — and we’re still a month out from the event,” said Randy Cleves, communications chairman for the awards and public relations director for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

“They’re bringing Izzo on, and the corporate interest pretty much mandated the move to the Amway Grand this year,” he added. “And we’re looking for a great night.”

Cleves gave event chairman Mitch Lyons the credit for getting Izzo on the podium.

Lyons, a Forest Hills Northern and MSU grad, played tight end for the Spartans and spent seven seasons with Atlanta and Pittsburgh in the National Football League. He said a friend who is close to the State basketball program acted as a go-between with Izzo, whom he knew as an assistant to coach Jud Heathcote when he attended State.

“I saw him over the course of a summer and fall a couple of times and mentioned it to him. He said he would try to work it out and it just took a while. Being that far out on his schedule, it’s kind of hard to pencil in a date,” said Lyons, who has been a financial planner at Axa Advisors LLC since he left the NFL in 1999.

“We were kind of in limbo for a number of months. But then he was finally able to set a time when he would be in town. Barring any unforeseen events, he will be here,” he added. “That was a major coup as far as being able to generate interest in the tables.”

Corporate tables cost $1,000, seat eight and are tax deductible. Individual seats are $50. Tickets can be purchased by calling 247-6861. Buying a table also means getting an ad in the program, and program ads also can be purchased without buying a table.

“We’re accepting donations for the silent auction items from businesses, too,” said Cleves.

One item that will be up for bid is a replica jersey from the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team. It has been signed by captain Mike Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig and defenseman Ken Morrow, the first player to win a gold medal and the Stanley Cup in the same year.

Another is a 3-by-8-foot Olympic banner autographed by Canadian gold medalist and Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. WOOD TV8 donated the banner, which was part of the station’s Olympic set.

All the proceeds from the event and auction go to the March of Dimes.

“This money goes into the big pot for the March of Dimes and we use the money for research,” said Karen Romine, of the West Michigan Division of the Michigan Chapter of the March of Dimes.

“Our main focus now is prematurity because they can’t explain it. Some people can attribute certain things to a premature birth. But there are so many women out there who delivery prematurely and there is absolutely no reason for it,” she added. “Those babies, unfortunately, tend to have problems later in life, also.”

The March of Dimes got its start by funding the Salk vaccine, which wiped out polio.

The sports awards will honor 15 individuals and organizations. (See related story.) The reception and silent auction start at 5:30 p.m. on April 10. The dinner is at 7 p.m. and the awards will be handed out an hour later. 

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