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Stars come out for Niswonger Classic

June 30th, 2014 9:53 pm by Joe Avento

Stars come out for Niswonger Classic

BRISTOL, Va. -- Peyton Manning was the headliner, but he had plenty of help during the Niswonger Children’s Hospital Golf Classic on Monday.

The supporting cast for the event at the Virginian was impressive.

Former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, now the coach at Auburn, was flashing his smile.

From the world of college football, former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and Virginia Tech coach  Frank Beamer were on hand.

In addition to Manning, the NFL was represented by Jason Witten, Dan Marino, new Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, DeAngelo Hall, Wesley Walls, Jim Stuckey and Carroll Dale.

Pro golfers Corey Pavin, Larry Mize, Loren Roberts and Gene Sauer also participated.

“I can speak for all the guys who come in, it makes us feel good that we know that we can come and make a difference in kids’ lives,” said Marino, making his third appearance at this event. “I enjoy coming here.”

Last year, Marino made a hole-in-one at the Virginian.

“I intend on making another one this year,” he said with a smile, making sure Pavin, a former U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup captain, heard him.

It was the fifth year for the Niswonger tournament, and the event raised $700,000.

“We get asked in a lot of different directions,” Manning said. “But when you find something you’re passionate about, you do it. It’s fun for me to play in this event every year.”

Manning and his wife Ashley support children’s charities and concentrate on areas where Manning spent time during his life -- Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado.

“The communities that have been close to me, when there’s a good cause in those communities you have a connection in, it’s fun to give back.”

Manning’s connection with children’s charities began in 1998 when he started working with St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. Years later, the facility is known as the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St Vincent. 

“My relationship with St. Vincent started when I joined the Colts,” he said. “It grew each year because I was spending a lot of time over there. Then, when they renamed the hospital in honor of me, the connection got even stronger. I’m very honored that it does bear my name.”

He also has a foundation, Peyback, which distributes grants to children-based organizations.

Manning and Witten, a couple of former Tennessee Vols, can usually find things to discuss when they get together for the Niwsonger Classic. This week, they talked about DeMarcus Ware, the defensive end who was cut by the Cowboys and signed by the Broncos.

“I was talking to Jason, and they were sorry to see DeMarcus leave,” Manning said. “That’s the worst part about football, when you lose a great teammate. But we’re glad to have DeMarcus on our team.”

Peyton wasn’t the only Manning happy to see Ware wind up in Denver.

“I know Eli said he was happy to see him out of the NFC East,” he said.

Fulmer, Manning’s former coach at Tennessee, has spent some of his time helping East Tennessee State get its football program running as an assistant to Athletic Director Richard Sander. Fulmer, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a national championship-winning coach, was instrumental in ETSU hiring Carl Torbush as head coach.”The whole process has been exciting,” Fulmer said. “It’s been thorough. I think Dr. (Brian) Noland has a fantastic vision of what he wants it to be and I think Carl is working hard to execute that vision.

“It is a long process, not something that’s gonna happen overnight. But when you actually have players on campus, or getting ready to come to campus, and you’ve got somebody to coach them, then things start really getting interesting.”

Fulmer remains involved in garnering support and creating interest for the fledgling program.

“I’m involved,” he said. “I probably have a conversation about it almost every day somewhere.”

The newest coach in Tennessee, Whisenhunt, seems genuinely optimistic about his Titans. And he definitely likes Nashville.

“It’s been great,” he said of his transition to the Music City. “It’s an easy city to move into and live.”

The Titans are coming off a 7-9 season and haven’t made the playoffs in five years. It cost Mike Munchak his job after just  three seasons.

“We’ve got a lot of questions,” Whisenthunt said. “We’ve only been working together for a couple of months now. Even though we’re really encouraged with what we’ve seen, we haven’t put the pads on or played a game. We have a lot of guys we have to find out about.

“We’re excited, but we also understand we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us. The team was close last year. We feel like we can compete and we’re excited to have that opportunity.”

The Titans will have a new look this season with Chris Johnson no longer part of the team. The running back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons in Nashville, including 2,006 in 2009, is now a member of the New York Jets.

“When somebody’s been that successful for an organization for so long, it’s always hard,” Whisenthunt said. “But that’s part of this business.”

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