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Bum’s back to help Hughen kids

To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, with just a bit of tweaking, the Bum Phillips Celebrity Golf Tournaments during the early 1980s in Port Arthur represented the “best of times and the worst of times,” in a star-studded event that saw the late Bob Hope ride shotgun with Phillips as part of a monster one-two punch.

    Some 30 years later Hughen Center executive director Monte Osburn is attempting to rekindle the best of times portion.

    Osburn, in trying to inject life into the Hughen Center Golf Tournament, and boost its fund-raising capabilities, traveled to the 88-year-old Phillips’ Goliad home last fall to see if he’d be interested in getting involved again. No arm twisting was necessary for the former Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints coach to agree.

    “That school and those kids have always had a special place in my heart,” Phillips said. “I don’t play golf any more, but I’m happy to come back and be a part of the tournament. I’ll just ride around in a golf cart and visit with everybody.”

    Bum’s visiting will take place Friday at Bayou Din Golf Club, with both the morning and afternoon shotgun starts sold out. Osburn wasn’t able to attract as many celebrities as he hoped, but is confident word of mouth and getting an earlier start on the 2012 event will result in an expanded cast of stars from the sports and entertainment world.

    Biggest name in this year’s lineup is Phillips’ former Houston Oiler quarterback Dan Pastorini. Other former members of the Luv Ya Blue Oilers in the field are NFL Hall of Famer Elvin Bethea, Willie Alexander, David Carter and John Schumacher.

    Celebrities in the tourney with local ties include Lamar football coach Ray Woodard, former TJ greats Goose Gonsoulin (Baylor, Denver Broncos) and Gary Hammond (SMU, NY Jets, St. Louis Cardinals), former University of  Houston star Alois Blackwell (Dallas Cowboys) and former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

    As was the case with the original Phillips event, the golf goes hand in hand with good food and terrific entertainment.

    Things kick off Thursday night with a wild game dinner featuring award-winning Texas chef and restaurateur Grady Spearks. Osburn has a huge name from the world of country music set to perform but wants it to be a surprise. Also singing will be Daryle Singletary.

    Sometime during the evening, celebrities will be auctioned off to highest bidding teams, as was the case in the early days. Additional funds will be raised for the Hughen Center through the auction of a Houston Oilers helmet signed by Bum, Earl Campbell, Pastorini and 18 other players, a Houston Texans’ helmet signed by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips, an autographed Jamaal Charles jersey, a Garth Brooks guitar and a Leroy Nieman print signed by Muhammed Ali and Nieman.

    The golf on Friday is to be followed by a Beaumont Bash Songwriters Night at the Dixie Dance Hall. On Saturday, with Clay Walker as the headliner, there’s a Beaumont Boys Bash Festival on Crockett Street.

    Bum, as he reflects back upon his introduction to Hughen Center over three decades ago, immediately thinks about a then eight-year-old youngster in a wheelchair named Bobby Valencia. He was one of the first Hughen kids Phillips met and they formed a unique bond.

    The old coach had hoped to re-connect with Valencia, now 36, during this week’s festivities. Unfortunately, the former Hughen student is suffering from a foot infection that prevents him from traveling from his home in San Angelo. He’s as disappointed as Phillips.

    “I still remember very well those times Bum would come and visit,” Valencia said. “All I knew at first was that he was a football coach and I wasn’t much into football at the time. But he was so nice and friendly and he and Mike Barber got me into watching football. We had a wonderful phone conversation Monday. I’m hoping to be able to make it next year.”

    The best of times, meanwhile, in those bygone  Phillips Celebrity Tournaments produced mind-boggling memories. And the worst of times, involving the death of a tournament volunteer during a killer tornado on May 20, 1983, left Bum with a heavy heart.

    In year one of the event — 1980 — the star power converging on Port Arthur was downright unbelievable.

    It started with Bum and Bob Hope. It included top NFL quarterbacks like Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw, Pastorini, Oakland’s Kenny Stabler, Dallas’ Danny White and Seattle’s Jim Zorn. University of Texas coaching legend Darrell Royal participated. So did former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow, future Aggie head coach R.C. Slocum and Port Arthur Lincoln NFL great Little Joe Washington.

    Astronaut Alan Shepard, who once hit a golf ball on the moon, was in the field. So was singer Charlie Pride, Dallas Cowboys tight end Billy Joe Dupree and Oilers kick return star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.   The list of big names just went on an on. In Port Arthur, Texas!

    The tournament was so big that very first year it was played over two days on two different courses — Port Arthur Country Club and Babe Zaharias. To make sure fans at both courses got to see both Hope and Phillips on Saturday, they each played nine holes at PACC, then were flown to Zaharias by helicopter to play a second nine.

    Entertainers who flocked to town in conjunction with the event included the likes of B.J. Thomas, Dottie West, Floyd Kramer, Tanya Tucker and Mel Tillis. Charlie Pride was front and center.

    It was an incredible roll until that deadly Friday in May of 1983 when the sky turned green, hail stones as big as golf balls pounded the area and a tornado came roaring through.

    Tournament worker Pete Vela, who was greeting incoming celebrities at Jefferson County Airport, died when the airport roof collapsed.  Also taking a direct hit was the Ramda Inn in Port Arthur where Phillips and other guests were staying.

    Golf that weekend was out of the question, so everybody adjourned to what was then Park Central Recreation Center for a bowling tournament. But there wasn’t much joy.

    “I was just devastated when I heard one of the volunteers was killed,” Bum recalls. “I was sick over it for a long time. I kept thinking if he hadn’t been helping with the tournament, he wouldn’t have died.” 

    That was sort of the beginning of the end for the tournament. There would be other contributing factors in the next couple of years. Big oil, which had helped fund the event, took a hit. There was some internal squabbling among people who’d played a key role in the event’s success. Enthusiasm seemed to wane.

    Now it’s just an amazing memory. And, hopefully, the forerunner to a successful second chapter that will produce more amazing memories, and make more folks aware of Hughen Center and the kids whose lives it impacts.