ACS Men’s Golf Championship has banner day, capped by speaker Ed O’Neil
Every year, the American Cancer Society Men’s Golf Championship in Warren raises money to help fund research and life-saving drugs, therapy and research against the dreaded disease.
On Wednesday, Conewango Valley Country Club played host to the annual event, which was co-chaired by John Zawacki and John Papalia Jr.
Thanks to the efforts of those two, and others, an event that had hit a bit of a lull raised $36,000, up from $20,000 raised in 2018.
The event was capped off with dinner and special guest speaker Ed O’Neil, who was in attendance along with his wife, Nancy.
It’s not hyperbole to say that O’Neil is the best football player that Warren Area High School has ever produced. He played for legendary coach Toby Shea, went on to an All-American career with Penn State and ultimately a lengthy NFL career after being selected by the Detroit Lions in the first round (8th overall) of the 1974 NFL Draft.
“I’m Ed O’Neil, and I’m a cancer survivor,” he said while addressing all those in attendance. “I’m happy and proud to speak on behalf of the American Cancer Society. They’ve raised millions of dollars. They’re here to help and your support is important. Lives are being saved every because of new drugs, therapy, and research. None of this is possible without your support.”
Both of O’Neil’s parents had colon cancer and he had a battle with prostate cancer, just a few of the many ways the disease has impacted his family. A recent conversation with his grandson really had a profound effect on him as well.
“How important is your support?” he said. “My grandson is 11, he asked ‘why are you doing this?’ (speaking at the ACS event). He said ‘you have cancer,?; I did, I said. He walked away, came back and said ‘Papa, can I get cancer?’ That’s why we do this. That’s why we need your support. So that an 11-year old someday doesn’t have to ask that.”
Early in his NFL career, he was asked to be spokesmen for the Ronald McDonald House in Detroit, which he gladly obliged. During an ACS event in Warren, he met with a young boy with cancer, Scott Jordan.
Jordan and his wife were both in attendance on Wednesday.
“Cancer has a way of changing us,” he said. “When I was growing up here in Warren in the 1950s and 60s, you didn’t talk about cancer. It never entered my mind; I wasn’t affected by it. Cancer certainly wasn’t prevalent at 523 Conewango Ave. where I grew up.”
That changed after he went to Penn State and saw first hand what cancer can do.
“One of my best friends at Penn State was John Cappelletti, Heisman Trophy winner,” O’Neil said. “His little brother Joey was battling childhood leukemia. For some crazy reason, he and I became very close. His illness had a profound effect on me, especially since he passed away at the tender age of 12. It was truly then that I grasped what cancer could do to a child, a family a community. It doesn’t care who you are.”
And that’s the thing with cancer, it plays no favorites.
But with the support of so many great people here in Warren County and all around the United States, the American Cancer Society is leading the way in helping to find a cure.