This is the time of year when Keena Turner gathers his former San Francisco 49ers teammates for one of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tracy’s biggest benefit events of the year.
This year, the threat of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Turner’s annual golf tournament, which was set for its 25th year. But it turned out that those who had pledged sponsorships or signed up to golf with Turner and other 49er greats at Ruby Hill Country Club in Pleasanton were committed to the cause they had lined up to support.
“We’ve just had some amazing support over the years, and we had a lot of sponsors that had made commitments to us and had already sent in money for the tournament,” Turner said.
“Everybody said, ‘Go ahead and keep the funds. We know the club is still in need, and we look forward to seeing you next year.’”
He and his wife, Linda, a member of the club’s board of directors, figured that their initial support gave them a good start toward an alternative benefit event. It was just a matter of building on momentum that was already there.
“The outpouring of support comes from a lot of different places,” Turner added. “A lot of our supporters over the last 25 years have participated. A lot of our friends have participated. Just an overwhelming amount of involvement from a variety of people has been humbling for us.”
Club CEO Kelly Wilson and Sofia Valenzuela, the club’s director of development and philanthropy, took one of the features of the annual event, the auction that usually comes after the round of golf, and repackaged it as a raffle. Consistent with the anniversary number, every aspect of the fundraiser came together in increments of 25.
They came up with a list of 25 prizes, including a grand prize of four suite tickets for a 49ers home game at Levi’s Stadium, with pregame field passes, a parking pass, and food and drinks. There will be other 49ers gear, such as a bottle of wine autographed by former coach Bill Walsh and a No. 58 jersey autographed by Turner. The club aims to sell 250 tickets at $250 each, which would be $62,500 toward a goal of raising $250,000.
Wilson said the club was closing in on that number this week, with about 40 tickets left to sell by Sunday night. This year, the benefit, without the usual expense of putting on the tournament, will go a bit further toward the club’s $2.3 million annual budget.
“We have virtually zero expenses. That’s a net $250,000 for the club, which is way more than what our net normally is,” Wilson said.
On Monday, the date when the tournament was originally scheduled, the Turners will draw the winning tickets at the Lowell Avenue club. The club will post a video of the drawing on its Facebook and Instagram pages Monday evening.
Wilson said the response so far was a testament to how the tournament had built relationships with the community.
“I want to say I was a little surprised, but I wasn’t surprised. Everybody said, ‘Count us in,’” she said. “The more Sofia made those calls and reported back, it really got the momentum going. Those initial calls we made got the committee really excited and behind doing what we needed to do to raise this much money to meet our goal.
“It just says a lot about Keena and Linda too. Everybody loves them, and people wanted to honor Keena and Linda for their 25 years.”
The first tournament was at Tracy Golf and Country Club on May 20, 1996, shortly after Turner moved to town. With the four-time Super Bowl champion headlining the tournament, and with sports celebrity guests including 49ers quarterback Joe Montana playing, it was a big draw.
Boys & Girls Club board member Dorlane Thrasher has been involved with the tournament ever since, and she sees why people are as enthusiastic as ever about the annual tradition.
“To me there are two reasons: the Turners and the Boys & Girls Club,” she said. “I know that people are really grateful for what the club is doing right now, especially with all the country is going through. The club is right there, and they’re there for the community, not just the members.”
The Boys & Girls Club has about 800 members at the main clubhouse next to Monte Vista Middle School and clubhouses at McKinley, Central, North, Jacobson, Villalovoz and South/West Park schools.
Turner said those kids were the reason he continued to look forward to the annual tournament.
“The club will play a huge role — has played a big role, and will continue to play a big role — in being a positive place for our kids,” he said.
When local schools saw in mid-March that COVID-19 would keep local youths out of their classrooms, the Boys & Girls Club leaders knew that their sites would have to shut down as well. Wilson said that her staff quickly figured out how to continue serving members and their families during the shutdown.
“We tried to support them in the same way that we did before, like with homework help and just being there for them with some of the programs that we ran,” she said. “We tried to make the Zoom, the virtual club as much like a summer camp as we could for the kids.”
Each week had a theme, like cooking or music classes over Zoom, plus game shows and talent shows. The club’s virtual offerings are open to students who aren’t members, too.
“I think that really resonated with people that supported us. They really liked the fact that we we’re still connecting with the kids,” Wilson said. “I think what resonates with people is that we just jumped in and started doing everything we could to support our families, just in a little bit of a different way.”