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Athletics: First-year success has Zahn and teammates thinking big

Golf fundraiser enjoys big inaugural year.

A group of people
Jesse Zahn (left) and Joe Haeg listen to former Brainerd Warriors head football coach Ron Stolski before Stolki officially starts the Joe Haeg Game Winning Drive golf fundraiser July 1, 2022, at Cragun's Legacy Courses.
Contributed by Jordan Joseph Photography
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EAST GULL LAKE — Year One is in the books and by all accounts, specifically that of the fundraising group, it was a success.

The inaugural Joe Haeg Game Winning Drive golf fundraiser held July 1 at Cragun’s Legacy Courses was a way for the current Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman and former Brainerd Warrior and his high school teammates to give back to the Brainerd Warriors football program.

The fundraising crew which consisted of players from Brainerd’s 2010 football team will meet with the Brainerd Warriors Football Association on Monday, July 25, and the hope is to hand over a check estimated to be for $30,000.

“There was a lot of preparation, and that’s almost an understatement, an immense amount of preparation for guys that put on their first ever golf tournament and it all panned out,” tournament director and Haeg’s high school teammate Jesse Zahn said. “I think the execution was as close to flawless as we could do. All the way from (former Warrior head coach Ron) Stolski sending us off to the dinner and silent auction.

“We had Joe’s jersey go for $800 and a pair of Super Bowl tickets go for $7,500 and all that was donated. Straight cash into the coffers of the Brainerd Warriors Football Association.”

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The first event saw 144 players compete in a four-person scramble followed by a cocktail hour, dinner and silent auction. Haeg himself gave a speech to rile up the crowd and cap off the event.

The vision moves to next year and years to come said Zahn. The hope is bigger and better moving forward. One quick idea Zahn had was to consolidate the cocktail hour, dinner and silent auction. The thought was the day went on for too long, but other than that Zahn felt the day was a success. He said feedback was positive.

One big change could be due to Haeg himself.

“Joe is going to be starting a foundation and it will likely be called Joe Haeg’s Game Winning Drive,” Zahn said. “His staple event will be this golf tournament. With that, we’re hoping to expand it to not just the Brainerd Warrior Football Organization.

“With the Legacy expanding the golf course to two 18-hole courses, we have the opportunity to possibly have two separate tournaments on both of those 18s. We could have 72 foursomes in total. I had 11 teams on the waitlist right up until the day of the tournament. If we can keep that kind of momentum I don’t foresee an issue filling out the tournaments.”

One other benefit to Haeg creating a foundation is it opens up the possibility for more involvement from the NFL and other professional teams said Zahn.

“His hope, and mine as well, is to raise as much money as we can because this doesn’t all need to be for the Brainerd Warriors Football Association,” Zahn said. “If we raise $50,000 that’s a lot of money so we could expand to not just the sport of football or maybe to other football programs in the area like Crosby, Staples, Pequot Lakes, Pierz and Pillager.”

Also by making it a Joe Haeg Foundation event, the hope is Joe can influence more of his NFL teammates and friends to come to play and be a part of it as well.

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For now Zahn is happy because the “foundation for the house is built.”

“We had a blast,” Zahn said. “We had a blast being with former teammates, with the golfers themselves that were participating and the camaraderie of the teammates young and old. You could see the smiles on their faces when they saw the coaching staff that has since retired from Brainerd. We invited all of them there because of what they meant to our lives. This event was hopefully a mirror image of what they taught to us year after year and after every practice. They always talked about giving back and not just being a taker. We wanted to be more than what we take. That was a rallying cry for all of us.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

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