Former NFL stars hit the links to raise money for breast cancer research

Dante Green
York Dispatch

Becoming highly successful doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by the many afflictions that come with everyday life.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler and Chicago Bear Merril Hoge knows that as well as anyone. Hoge has survived cancer and knows the importance of research.

“Ten years prior to my diagnosis, there was no treatment for what I had. With research, they found one eventually," he said.

That's why Hoge and other football legends including Laurence Taylor, Seth Joyner, DeAngelo Hall and Mike Quick spent Wednesday on the links at Colonial Golf and Tennis Club near Harrisburg for the annual Mid Penn Bank Charity Golf outing. All proceeds from the fundraiser go to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition for the advancement of further research for cures.

Hoge has supported the tournament since it began in 2015.

"This is what something like this does for people. It helps raise funding, and the funding goes toward research. It helps save lives at the end of the day,” he said.

Former NFL cornerback and three-time Pro Bowler Hall said he saw what it was all about when he first attended the tournament a few years ago.

“When you see special you want to be a part of it,” Hall said. “Doing anything I can to lend a helping hand. I’m a small guy compared to most of the guys here. It’s one of the best events I go to every year.”

The tournament raised more than $125,000 last year and has hopes of topping that figure this year.

Merril Hoge at the celebrity charity golf classic for breast cancer in Harrisburg on July 13, 2022.

Mid Penn CEO Rory Ritrievi said the event is something that is “near and dear to everyone’s heart.”

“We have 150 employees that make this happen. All of these people helping here. Without them, we can’t make this happen. We’re doing this for family members and for the community. We want to make this to be the best charity golf tournament on the East Coast,” Ritrievi said.

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The tournament began with a 2015 challenge from Ritrievi to the bank's employees that he would help set up a golf tournament for the company if they could think of a worthy cause. The employees presented the idea of fundraising for breast cancer and the tournament was created.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women in the United States, with up to 40,000 people dying from it annually. 

Former Philadelphia Eagle defensive end Brandon Graham said his grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Graham saw the event as a way to support other women who suffer through the struggle of cancer.

Hugh Green, former Miami Dolphins linebacker, on left, and Rory Ritrievi, President and CEO at Mid Penn Bancorp, Inc and Mid Penn Bank, on left, at the celebrity charity golf classic for breast cancer in Harrisburg on July 13, 2022.

“It shows people that other people care. When you do stuff like this to raise money, it’s important," Graham said. "You don’t see the struggles of people and what they have been through. This is a way of communicating that you’re not left behind. That people haven’t forgotten you. Anytime I can show that I care, I try and be a part of it.” 

Wednesday was just Day 1 of the three-day event. The team of former McDonald's All-American Gerald Henderson Jr. and Life Brand CEO TJ Colalezzi beat out Gerald Henderson Sr. among the other 25 teams to take home the shootout victory for the day.

The tournament continued Thursday with players playing a more traditional 18 holes of golf. Other celebrities involved include Hugh Green, Seth Joyner, Michael Vick, Andre Tippett and Jay Gruden. The event will conclude Friday.