Gators rumble, thunder rolls


Florida safety Major Wright, center, leads the red team at the start of the second annual Gator Charity Challenge on Friday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.

Although the start of the 2009 Gator football season is a month away, the Gator Charity Challenge on Friday could have been mistaken a bit for pregame drills.

As storm clouds rolled over Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, eventually halting the event after about an hour, an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans did not leave terribly disappointed, having gotten a chance to see players flex their muscles.

Each of six teams made up of Gator players competed in the obstacle course, sled push and tire push.

And while they were not up against opponents like in-state rival Florida State or even SEC nemesis Tennessee, the six teams competing against each other were united in the goal of raising money for charities affiliated with Shands at the University of Florida.

It's the second year of the free event in the Swamp. The inaugural challenge drew a crowd of an estimated 1,800 fans and raised $6,000 for designated charities. Friday's pledge tally is not yet known.

The returning lineup of charities included the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Children's Miracle Network and the March of Dimes. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was added to the roster this year.

Ashleigh Godfrey, 11, of Gainesville battles cystic fibrosis, a chronic, genetic condition that affects a person's lungs. Ashleigh felt good on Friday night and took the field with the blue team and could be seen cheering them on.

The former Tennessee fan said she is now a confirmed Gator, especially after shaking hands with Gator quarterback Tim Tebow, who competed on the Cystic Fibrosis team.

Tebow endured good-natured ribbing from teammates, who accused him of cheating as his team blew away the competition in each of the three rounds.

Once the event was called because of a thunderstorm, the Cystic Fibrosis team, headed by Gator wide receiver Cade Holliday, was declared the winner with 11 points.

Team rankings were: American Heart Association, second; Children's Miracle Network, third; March of Dimes, fourth; Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, fifth; and American Cancer Society, sixth.

Mickey Marotti, director of strength and conditioning for the Gators, said the players have had a hard off-season preparing for the season, which opens Sept. 5 at home against Charleston Southern.

He told the crowd that while he picked each captain, the captains then drafted their own teams.

Angela Acosta, director of special events for the North Florida office of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Jacksonville, said the event is a good way to inform the community about the foundation's work. She is hoping to collect at least $1,000 in pledge donations.

She was halfway there with a $500 pledge from Shawn Chatfield of Gainesville. For his pledge, Chatfield received a $500 gift card to Best Buy.

Margaret Friend, director of special events for Shands, representing the Children's Miracle Network at Shands Children's Hospital, said the network raised almost $1,000 last year and is hoping to exceed that total with an average pledge of $25-$50.

"I know it's harder with the economy this year, but we can still share with people the work of the network to raise awareness," she said. "And the Children's Miracle Network benefits each of the other agencies out here tonight."

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