Civilian employees give back to community
Andy Baxter prepares to sink a putt during the Annual Starbelly Golf Outing, a fundraiser that provides money to the ARC Northern Chesapeake Region, an organization that provides various services to people with developmental disabilities.

Several years ago, Joseph McKeever, an employee with the U.S. Army Developmental Test Command, and his close friend, Dennis Schocket, a local musician, were discussing what they might do to support their local community. It occurred to them that an agency serving developmentally disabled citizens, such as the ARC Northern Chesapeake Region in Harford County, would be a worthwhile organization to help out. So they visited the office of the ARC NCR, were given a tour of the place and decided to organize a charity golf tournament to raise funds for the agency.

Their first tournament took place in the summer of 2003, and since then, the event has morphed into an annual fundraiser that takes place every July.

Billed as the "Annual Starbelly Golf Outing," after the name of Schocket's band, the tournament has netted about $13,500 since 2003.

This past year's tournament was the most successful ever, raking in some $3,000 for the ARC NCR, McKeever said.

He does much of the logistical legwork to pull together each annual tournament, and Schocket gets many of the golfers to participate in the tournament, in addition to providing musical entertainment for tournament participants. Ten volunteers help organize the fundraiser as well.

"We wanted to find something that was local, where all the money stayed right here in the area," McKeever said of the tournament genesis. "I had earlier in my life donated a car to the ARC, and I thought, 'Well, I'll go to the ARC and talk to somebody there.'"

As it turned out, he and Schocket were invited to one of the agency's open-houses which take place every month, and the tour they received there convinced them the ARC was an organization they had to support.

"They gave us the whole tour, and we met a lot of the people who get services there," McKeever recalled. "It's a fantastic organization for giving these people a better life. They would be lost in the system if the government was taking care of them. For the people who need it, it's a really great organization for making them feel a lot better about their lives, and giving them something to look forward to."

According to Torri Dietrich, a spokesperson for the ARC NCR, last year's proceeds from the tournament were applied to the agency's recreation support services to help people with disabilities "participate in inclusive recreational activities of their choice."

"Some of the activities include unified basketball, softball, soccer, bocce and kayaking, where people with and without disabilities enjoy participating in athletic endeavors together," Dietrich said. "We also sponsored an open-air painting program in partnership with the Harford County Arts Commission and plan to launch an inclusive summer camp program this summer."

She said the golf tournaments that make these programs possible are not only great charitable events but also fun for the players and other participants.

"It is such a fun event and has a regular following of golfers and participants, thanks to Mister McKeever's boundless energy, enthusiasm and leadership," she said.

Tournament participants can play in teams, and their entry fees include the golf, food and beverages provided, and a variety of door prizes. The grand prize last year was free play for a foursome at the exclusive Hunt Valley Golf Club, an amenity contributed by one of the players in the tournament who works there. Local sponsors help with gift certificates.

There also are "hole sponsors" who pay $125 to $150 per hole, depending on whether they have supported the tournament in the past, he added. A particularly challenging hole earns a big prize - a car from a local dealership - if someone makes a hole-in-one. The dealership doesn't furnish the car for free, so McKeever must buy insurance to make sure the prize is covered should someone get either very skillful, or very lucky. No one yet has claimed that prize, but two years ago a player earned two airline tickets for scoring an ace at a different hole.

McKeever said tournament participation averages about 20 to 25 teams each year, for a total of 80 to 100 players. About half of the players work for tenant activities on APG, he added.

"This past year, we played at Ruggles," McKeever said. "During the previous five years, we played at the Wetlands in Aberdeen, close to Ripken Stadium. We moved it over to Ruggles because they offered a cheaper rate for playing, and I was able to get more money for the tournament. It was the best year we've ever had for everything. It was the smoothest-run tournament, and everything went perfectly."

The tournament appears to run smoothly because of the work McKeever, Schocket and the volunteers put into it well ahead of tournament time.

"It is a huge undertaking," McKeever admits. "I typically start getting stuff together in January. We have the golf tournament in July, so it takes me six months out of the year to go around and beg, borrow and plead for support. A lot of restaurants give me gift certificates, and I end up giving them out as prizes. Other businesses give me other prizes - T-shirts or whatever they can give. The way I look at it, anything they can give me is more than I have. I give them all out as prizes because it didn't cost me anything. I also purchase a five dollar handout item that everybody gets, so everybody gets something. About half the people get a prize as well."

Anyone who is interested in participating in this July's tournament can contact Joseph McKeever at starbellymusic@aol.com or visit the Starbelly Web site, www.starbelly.tv/golf.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16