After 27 years, York County Special Olympics Celebrity Golf Classic still going strong
When George Tarasovic approached Eddie Khayat 27 years ago about organizing a celebrity golf outing to raise money for York County Special Olympics, Khayat knew that they could eventually plan something big.
All it would need was a year or two to grow.
Except they didn't need a year or two. In the first year, they sold out the event, registering 36 foursomes (144 golfers) to play. The event has sold out every year since, including Monday, when the York County Special Olympics Celebrity Golf Classic was contested at Out Door Country Club.
"It's been just a great event," said Khayat, who played 10 years in the NFL and served as a head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and other pro football franchises for a quarter of a century. "A lot of these tournaments that started when we did are no longer in business. But, this one continues to grow with great cooperation from the community and we've raised a great deal of money."
In the nearly three decades since the outing first started, it's helped to raise more than $600,000 for York County Special Olympics. The money raised allows the program to include more athletes in its games and offer more events for them to compete in.
Khayat's involvement with the Special Olympics dates back to 1972, when he was asked if he wanted to attend a track meet in West Chester with a couple of friends. It was only when he arrived to the meet that he found out that it was a Special Olympics event. Ever since then, he was hooked.
While Khayat is quick to pass all compliments about the outing to co-founder Tarasovic, who also had a 12-year NFL career, Khayat knew that a place like York would be a welcoming town to host the annual event. Khayat raised his family in York County and his kids attended York Catholic High School.
The yearly outing attracts many former professional athletes, most of whom starred from the 1960s through the 1990s. Many are constants every year, such as Scott Fitzkee and Billy Ray Barnes, but the tournament also attracts new celebrities every year, such as former Penn State and NFL running back Blair Thomas.
"All the players love this event," Khayat said. "The best advertising you can get is word of mouth and all these guys play in these things all over the place, but they all say to friends, 'hey, have you ever played in the one in York? You have to go to that one.' They love it."
Thomas makes first appearance: Thomas is one of the more active former Nittany Lion players when it comes to getting his face out in public at local events.
Thomas was a last-minute celebrity guest at the seventh annual clay shooting event at Central Penn Sporting Clays in April, when Nittany Lion wrestling coach Cael Sanderson was the guest shooter. He was, again, a last-minute addition to Monday's outing, making his first appearance at the event.
"The Penn State community is so vast and we hit so many communities across the state of Pennsylvania," he said. "With what Penn State has been through, and they're kind of getting things back on track there, anytime a former player can get out and do some good things in the community it's always a plus."
Thomas, who was a member of the 1986 national championship team and earned All-America status in 1989. He was the second overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. Coming to this part of the state allows him to interact with longtime PSU fans, which included many of the golfers that signed up for the outing. But it also means that he's forced to give his two cents on the state of the football program, as was the case on Monday.
"I'm liking all the things that I'm seeing and that I'm hearing," he said about the team. "I think Coach (James) Franklin is doing a great job of being aggressive recruiting kids. He's staying after it and I think we have a lot of competition going on there, and when you have competition, that makes for a great team."
Fitzkee returns home: Also in attendance, for the 26th time in 27 outings, was Fitzkee, who was an academic All-American while playing for the Nittany Lions.
The former NFL veteran, who made the playoffs with the Eagles and San Diego Chargers all eight years he was in the league, makes it a point to come to the outing every year. He grew up in Red Lion and the tournament serves as a chance to come back to the area and see some old friends and teammates, many of whom played with him in Philadelphia, including Bill Bradley and John Bunting.
As a player who experienced some of the better years in his time with the Eagles, Fitzkee gave some of his thoughts surrounding the team and head coach Chip Kelly, who's undergone scrutiny for some of his offseason moves.
"I like the coach," he said. "I like what he's doing. He's trying to bring in his own team. I know a lot of people didn't like it when he got rid of (LeSean) McCoy ... but, I'm an Eagles fan. I'm from Pennsylvania, number one. I've been an Eagles and Colts fan my whole life and now that I'm an alumni, I think they're going to do well and I'm looking forward to the season. I think Kelly knows what he's doing."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org