Smile Politely

The Tom Jones Challenger League Benefit: “Go Cubs, Go!”

The CU Kiwanis Tom Jones Challenger League Benefit was held this past Friday night at the Wyndham Hotel in Urbana, presented by Mega Events. Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and World Series Champions David Ross and Kyle Schwarber were in attendance, along with former Chicago Bear and WCW personality Steve McMichael and a host of local celebrities and public officials.

“It was a fun community event, but it also did a lot of good,” said Champaign Mayor Deborah Feinen.  “Mike [Namoff] deserves a lot of credit.”

Lead Auctioneer Mike Namoff indicates the event was nothing short of a success.  “It takes money to make money,” he said.  “I think we raised somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 for the kids this time.”

The Tom Jones Challenger League focuses on children between the ages of 6 and 21 years with physical or mental challenges and provides them with a safe environment to enjoy themselves.  The league holds all games and practices at AMBUCS Park in Urbana.

The 500+ guests in attendance were invited to bid on both the silent auction items which lined the perimeter of the venue and the specialized pieces and packages that graced the stage. And while the auction itself was a tremendous success, equally enjoyable was the Q&A session with the Chicago Cubs guests of honor that took place at the midpoint of the evening.

A packed room listened intently as the players took questions from the crowd. The responses ranged from the hilarity of Sandberg’s recollection of Harry Caray referring to him as Syne Randberg on his first day as a Cub and Ross revealing what he says to opposing players when he’s behind the plate, to the intense seriousness of Scwarber’s near season-long rehabilitation.

Prior to the players taking the stage, Danville artist John Jansky treated the crowd to a demonstration of his speed painting skills, creating upside down portraits of the players in attendance. Jansky’s pieces were among the first to be auctioned off.

After the Q&A, the live auction began.

At one point, the Challenger League team members were invited on stage to meet the major leaguers and get some photos taken. According to Namoff, the Cubs were just as moved by the evening as the Challenger players were. “Schwarber and Ross said it’s the best fund raiser they have been to.” he said.

Earlier in the evening, Feinen had awarded Ross, Scwarber, and Sandberg keys to the city, which she jokingly said must fail in comparison to their recent White House visit. “What an amazing opportunity to sit in a room with two World Series Champions,” she said. “I’m grateful to Mike and his staff for putting their time and energy into this event.”

Interestingly, the highlight of the event for Namoff came the next morning. As he was returning to the venue to have breakfast with Schwarber, Namoff overheard a special needs child tell his father that the benefit had been the best day of his life.  Upon hearing the child’s comment, Namoff approached the family and invited them to join him and Schwarber. “By the time the meal was over,” said Namoff, “the kid said he’d changed his mind. He said that now today was the best day of his life!”

For more information visit Mega Events and Tom Jones Challenger League.

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