As a blazing North Texas sun pushed outdoor thermometers to the 100-degree mark, four children, firmly clutching putters, stood on the practice green at the Bridlewood Golf Club. With encouragement from parents and half a dozen vocal volunteers, they coaxed their golf balls into the cup, officially starting the Inaugural Research Down Syndrome Charity Golf Classic.
Three of the children, all from Flower Mound – Katie Longworth, Kendall Tignor and Nathan Watson — live each day with the challenges of having Down syndrome. The fourth, Riyansh Srivastara of Irving, represented more than 25 volunteers, including Melissa Bentley, also of Flower Mound.
Nathan’s parents, Patty and Paul Watson, hosted the event on June 17. “We raised nearly $70,000, exceeding our goal of $50,000, for the Research Down Syndrome Foundation of Chicago,” said Patty Watson. “The unbelievable support we received is very much appreciated by us and all families who want their children with Down syndrome to live life to its fullest.”
The Research Down Syndrome Foundation has supported cognitive research at leading academic institutions across the country, including Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University, University of Arizona, University of California – San Diego and University of Colorado.
“We are truly grateful to Patty and Paul, the event sponsors and volunteers and all of the attendees,” said Robert Schoen, the foundation’s president. “With this wonderful support, our foundation can continue to fund the remarkable research that holds such great promise for assisting memory and learning in persons with Down syndrome.”
Nearly 150 golfers, including 21 retired professional athletes, competed in the 18¬¬¬-hole, four-person scramble. Among the retired athletes were former MLB players Jose Guzman, Claude Osteen and Dave Roberts; former NFL players Barry Foster, Ken Jolly and Jerry Norton, and former NBA players Oliver Miller and Ira Terrell. Victor Villalba, Spanish TV broadcaster of the Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks and the Texas Rangers, golfed as well. Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Pete Sessions and sports radio talk-show host, Norm Hitzges, who were not able to attend, supported the event as honorary sponsors.
In addition to golf, the event featured a hole-in-one contest, online, silent and live auctions, as well as an awards banquet. Silent auction items included footballs autographed by UT football head coach Mack Brown, OU football head coach Bob Stoops, and former NFL player, head coach and Alabama head coach Gene Stallings, whose late son, Johnny, had Down syndrome.
Lyndon LaPlante, 23, who has Down syndrome, played 18 holes and spoke at the banquet. Turning to Patty and Paul’s son, Nathan, he said, “You follow me, and you will be the next Tiger Woods.” He said that he has been a member of Super Kids baseball teams, and competed in Special Olympics’ basketball, cycling, golf, and power lifting. He recounted that, when he was a Keller High School senior in 2005, he made an unofficial 99-yard touchdown run, which brought the crowd to its feet. When he concluded with, “Thank you for playing today. I hope you stayed in the short grass,” he once again brought the crowd to its feet.
Before Ira Terrell served as the evening’s auctioneer, Paul Watson explained that Down syndrome is the result of an extra copy of the genetic material present on chromosome 21, and is the most frequently occurring chromosomal abnormality, with an incidence of about one of every 700 live births. Currently, there are an estimated 3 million people with Down syndrome worldwide, including 400,000 in the United States.
“Research holds the promise of medical treatments,” said Watson. “We are not talking about ‘curing’ Down syndrome. We are talking about pharmacological therapies that would address specific chemistry imbalances and neuron dysfunction in the brain of a person with DS,” he continued. “Already interventions with mice bred with DS have resulted in the restoration of near normal cognitive function. With human clinical trials expected to begin in the near future, we are on the cusp of transforming possibilities for people who live with Down syndrome.”
“These treatments would have the potential to raise learning, memory and communication skills for those with Down syndrome – to a level that could significantly improve performance in school and employment,” he added. “If these efforts could raise cognitive abilities by 10 to 20%, imagine how this would enhance life opportunities for persons with Down syndrome!”
For more information about the Research Down Syndrome Foundation, click on: www.researchds.org.
For more information about how North Texas residents can support RDS, send an e-mail to Paul Watson at [email protected].
Pictured above: Participants and observers of the first putts, starting the Inaugural Research Down Syndrome Charity Golf Classic, from left: Riyansh Shrivastara standing in front of his father, Ritesh; Melissa Bentley of Flower Mound; Kendall Tignor, standing in front of her mother, Maureen – of Flower Mound; Nathan Watson, standing in front of his father, Paul – of Flower Mound; Kim Harsha; Bob Schoen, president of Research Down Syndrome Foundation; Katie Longworth, sitting in front of her mother, Elizabeth – of Flower Mound.
Submitted by Alan Edwards.