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Mark Wilson's inspiring donation will help plenty of sick children

 Why is it that the holiday season makes it enviable to be a kid again? To a little one, the sparkling lights seem magical -- a Thanksgiving feast is somehow bigger and the unopened presents always seem to contain the best gift.

The same can be said for children and their favorite athletes or sports team — he, she or they appear larger than life, considerably more heroic and that’s-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up good through the eyes of a youngster.

When PGA TOUR pro Mark Wilson was a kid, his dad used to take him to Milwaukee Bucks games, where he’d watch the gigantesque NBA athletes wow the crowd with their basketball skills. Little Mark was impressed, too, by the team’s donation to an area charity.

“Every three pointer made by a Bucks player meant a $50 donation to the MACC Fund,” recalled Wilson. “I remember thinking how much I wanted to be a professional basketball player and give to the MACC Fund. Since I stopped growing at 5-foot-8, I decided I may have a better chance at golf.”

Years later, the 32-year-old took those memories of watching athletes donate to the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc.) and put them into practice. In 2004, he and the MACC Fund formed a relationship known as “Making a Mark Fore MACC,” where Wilson donates a percentage of his earnings each year based on his TOUR finishes.

The first year, he and his wife Amy donated $5,000, and they followed up with $12,000 in 2005, which at that point was the largest donation by a single athlete to the MACC Fund. But 2006 was a little different.

“The MACC Fund was having a dinner celebrating their 30th anniversary on October 26. We just so happened to be looking at our finances that morning and calculated that we were going to donate $9,800 to the MACC Fund based on my 2006 earnings,” Wilson said.

“Then Amy looked at me and said, ‘How about we do something really special this year? How about we give them $30,000 for their 30th birthday?’ After my initial gasp and some prayers, we decided it was what we wanted to do for such a wonderful organization.”

So the Pewaukee, Wisc., native donated a record-breaking $30,000 to the organization, far exceeding his previous donation that made him the athlete to give the biggest donation in the organization’s history.

The MACC Fund was established in 1976 to support research into the treatment and cure for childhood cancer and other related blood disorders like sickle cell disease and aplastic anemia. In the 30 years since its inception, the MACC Fund has donated about $31 million to research.

John Cary, executive director of the MACC Fund, was touched by the Wilsons’ generosity towards this cause, especially considering Mark finished 156th on the 2006 TOUR money list and is currently working his way through the PGA TOUR National Qualifying Tournament.

“What he did in terms of giving is pretty amazing, especially considering next week he will be teeing it up in q-school,” Cary said. “Not many of us lose a job, so to speak, and then write a check for $30,000.

“I wasn’t surprised because he is such a good guy but I guess (I was) overwhelmed at the situation, that he would be that generous at a time when he is fighting for his TOUR card. I know, personally, if I wasn’t sure where my future was going to be, I’d hold on to everything I could.

“It’s just an example of his spirit and generosity…and he is fortunate to have a marvelous wife who shares his passion for golf and for helping others.”

Cary noted that it’s also exceptionally impressive because a golfer like Wilson never knows if he will make any money by participating in a tournament, since missing a cut means going home empty-handed.

“Unlike other sports, if he has an off day he doesn’t get paid,” Cary said. “What makes Mark and guys on TOUR pretty special is that if they are not successful, they don’t get paid, so to be as generous as they are, as he is, [it’s] pretty amazing.”

The Wilsons visited the Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee in 2004, where they were able to take a tour, meet some of the doctors and, most importantly, spend time with the children who were in the hospital. Both Wilson and Cary hope that they can work together on an activity for the MACC Fund in December.

In the meantime, however, Wilson will be fighting his way through q-school, advancing to the finals after tying for 10th in the second stage at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City Beach, Fla. It can be a daunting affair, but Wilson made it through with some help from his wife.

“The toughest part of q-school is the downtime between rounds,” he said. “The uncertainty of the following year looms overhead. Amy and I [played] Scrabble or cards every night to get our minds off golf. She beat me almost every night, but it sure passes the time.”

Despite the return trip to q-school, this year wasn’t as bad as it may seem for Wilson, who turned professional in 1997 after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill and has since alternated between the Nationwide Tour and the PGA TOUR. His highest finish ever on TOUR is third at the 2005 Valero Texas Open while Wilson tied for ninth at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson earlier this year. It can be a tough road to the TOUR, but this Thanksgiving, Wilson and his wife offer an example of what the holiday season, as well as the TOUR, really represent -- not pressure-filled golf or winning lots of money but “Giving Back” to those in need.

As he celebrates all that he is thankful for this week, Wilson says he is most grateful for his family, who have rooted him on through the years and helped him be in a position where he can make such a big-hearted donation.

“Amy and I often talk about how fun and supportive our family is,” he said. “Last month, we lost our Granny, my mother’s mother. She was my sole surviving grandparent, and this Thanksgiving will be our first holiday without her. While going through her old scrapbooks, I realized she had been cutting out every article she found on me in the newspaper over the years. It was touching to see how proud she was of my accomplishments. She will be sorely missed.”

And, while his grandmother may have been proud of his accomplishments on the course, it’s also likely that she would be especially proud of him for doing his part to add a little magic and sparkle to the lives of sick children with his MACC donation.

Nov. 23, 2006
By Lauren Deason Editorial Coordinator

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