Sports stars, fans come to celebrate Dream Center

BRADENTON -- Bradenton attorney Mark Barnebey wore his prized Tampa Bay Rays jersey.

Annamarie Wenk, whose husband is the new CFO of Champs Sports, came in her green New York Jets No. 15 Tim Tebow jersey.

School board member Barbara Harvey planned to wear her maroon and gold Bethune-Cookman University Wildcats game jersey but discovered, to her angst, that it was at the dry cleaners so she had to settle for school board meeting attire.

Hundreds scoured their closets Friday to suit up for the festive Annual Champs' Sports Weekend kickoff cocktail party, dinner and silent auction at the 13th Avenue Dream Center, 922 24th St. E., Bradenton.

The goal at Friday's 10th annual event was to get those in uniform to chip in $100,000

toward the $750,000 mortgage on the $2.5 million facility that serves thousands of children from East Bradenton. The goal was looking good by 8 p.m. Friday, said director Patrick Carnegie.

Perhaps of the reasons why the crowd was happy and in a giving mood was that Bobby Bowden was in the room.

There's something about this 82-year-old former Florida State University football coach that touches every heart, said David Zaccagnino, a Holmes Beach city commissioner and Seminole through and through.

"You can walk right up and talk to him," Zaccagnino. "He's genuine."

Carol Stratmeyer, who was suited up in a garnet Seminole sports shirt, had come all the way from Atlanta to attend the dinner and to meet Bowden.

When the coach heard she had come from Georgia, he invited her to his table.

Stratmeyer's best friend, Bradenton's Cathy Ranft, took Stratmeyer's picture with Bowden, who, since Penn State's Joe Paterno was stripped of some wins in the Jerry Sandusky scandal, is now the NCAA's all-time leader with 377 wins, most coming at Florida State, where he coached from 1976 to 2009.

"I'm very glad to meet you," the coach told Statmeyer, who was floored.

"He's so warm and personable," Stratmeyer said.

At his table, Bowden, who won national championships with the Noles in 1993 and 1999, said he is spending his days speaking and playing golf. Suddenly, he began to talk football.

He says he feels bad for the fans of the Nittany Lions of Penn State and that he still follows the Noles. He shook his head with disappointment over the fact that his beloved Noles ran into the N.C. State Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C., last Saturday and dropped from the ranks of unbeaten.

It was evident that he still has a finely-tuned feel for the game.

He said he likes the chances of the South Carolina's Gamecocks this year, but, due to the fact that they are "sky high" from crushing Georgia last Saturday, he said he can't quite see them outscoring Louisiana State on Saturday at LSU's home field.

That home field is a place, Bowden reminded those listening to him in rapt attention, that sports a 25-yard long banner around the perimeter that says, "Welcome to Death Valley."

"LSU could very well be in a bad mood Saturday," Bowden said, referring to LSU's close loss to the Gators of Florida last week. "Maybe South Carolina won't be in a bad mood."

His eyes said it all.

His eyes said to win in Death Valley, a team has to be in a bad mood to the level of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

Although Bowden was the star attraction Friday, former NBA all-stars Artis Gilmore and Otis Birdsong, as well as former NFL tight end Jimmy Giles and major league pitcher Dennis Rasmussen were on the bill.

The ultimate winner were the children, said Johncyna McRae, whose mother, Annie Lucy Williams, was director of the center in the 1960s.

"Look around," she said. "This is a dream come true."