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Grand finale of Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party raises $730,000

Woody and Donna McCasland (left), who helped create the Children’s Healthcare Endowment, and Becky Fox, director of development for Seton Highland Lakes Hospital, are all smiles at the end of the Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party on June 16. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Woody and Donna McCasland (left), who helped create the Children’s Healthcare Endowment, and Becky Fox, director of development for Seton Highland Lakes Hospital, are all smiles at the end of the Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party on June 16. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO

BURNET — Woody McCasland definitely made the grand finale of the Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party and Golf Tournament memorable.

During the June 16-17 event, which raised about $730,000 for the Seton Care-A-Van — a mobile health clinic for uninsured and underinsured Highland Lakes children — McCasland rose to the challenge laid down by Highland Lakes Health Fund board member Cary Johnson.

During the Paddles Up for Kids portion of the Friday night party, Johnson told attendees that health fund officials were prepared to match up to $500,000. The Paddles Up portion allowed people to donate as much money as they wanted.

McCasland, former president of the Highland Lakes National Bank, went big.

“This is the future to keep the van going for many, many years,” he told the assembly. “My wife, Donna, and I love this. I pledge $100,000.”

With their gift, Paddles Up for Kids raised $276,125 on its own.

Becky Fox, director of development for Seton Highland Lakes Hospital, said officials are more than halfway to the full $500,000 match. They still need to raise an additional $233,875 to complete the matching challenge gift.

Overall, the Tailgate Party on Friday generated $588,810 with the remainder of the $730,000 total coming from Saturday’s golf tournament. The money will go into the Children’s Healthcare Endowment, which McCasland had a hand in starting, to help keep the Care-A-Van rolling.

Since 2008, the endowment has grown to more than $1.1 million thanks to fundraisers and donors. Officials hope to push the endowment higher, which could mean the interest alone would support the mobile clinic.

That’s one of the things McCasland pointed out when he accepted Johnson’s challenge.

“The proceeds we raise tonight will stay intact,” he said, referring to the endowment itself. “We’ll get the earnings (off interest from the endowment).”

Seton officials said the endowment will continue the work started by legendary coaches Emory Bellard and Spike Dykes, who helped begin the Tailgate Party and Golf Tournament 14 years ago.

When the two coaches got it started, they tapped their friends and fellow coaches from across the state to come out for barbecue, fellowship, fun, and golf. About the only thing that surprised the two, especially Dykes, who was the head football coach at Texas Tech University from 1986-99 before retiring to Horseshoe Bay, was how popular it became. People blocked out the event weekend each year.

But 2017 marks the last Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party and Golf Tournament.

In February, Dykes met with Fox, and it was decided that 2017 would be the last year for the event.

Then, Dykes passed away April 10, 2017. Bellard died Feb. 10, 2011.

That’s one reason Seton officials and others like the McCaslands made it a point to do all they could during the last event.

“We really want to honor them with these gifts,” Fox said. “It went better than I hoped it would. I don’t think we could end this event any better. Part of what made Spike feel really good is that the endowment had been put in place. It was raising funds to keep that Care-A-Van going. It made him smile and feel good.” 

Since it was the final Tailgate Party, organizers honored Bellard and Dykes by showing video in memory of the two and asking those who knew them best to talk.

Bellard’s wife, Susan, and his former Texas A&M running back Bubba Bean spoke of the coach’s fondness for football, his family, friends, and players.

Rick Dykes, coach Dykes’ son, and Dr. Mike Dean, a longtime friend, reflected on why people thought so much of the West Texan and how he motivated people to give and want to be better.

Rick and his brother, Sonny, the former head coach of the University of California who now works for Texas Christian University as a football analyst, attended the Tailgate Party for the first time.

Sonny Dykes said the outpouring of support after his dad’s death and the stories of how Spike impacted lives have been very touching for him and the family.

“He was a pretty beloved guy,” he said. “It made us feel so fortunate to have him as our dad. We feel really blessed. He felt lucky to be a part of this event. We’re helping young people. What a great cause.”

Just how popular was the event during the Past 14 years? Event chairman Ken Graham said it drew more than 4,200 donors, 7,000 attendees, and 1,400 volunteers with most coming from Burnet County and Horseshoe Bay.

“We found out how the people in this community are,” Graham said. “That’s the thing that amazed coach Bellard and coach Dykes, how people turned out for something that’s more like a football atmosphere. They realized the need, and they were both surprised at how willing people were to get behind the cause and see it to fruition.”

Though this was the last Seton Care-A-Van Tailgate Party and Golf Tournament, the need remains. The event served two purpose: raising money and raising awareness.

“We really wanted to elevate the awareness of the Care-A-Van and the work we’re doing on the Children’s Healthcare Fund,” Fox said. “It’s the legacy for future generations.”

Those who want to donate may contact Fox at bfox1@ascension.org or (512) 715-3367.

jfierro@thepicayune.com