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Thunderbirds raise over $10 million at Waste Management Phoenix Open

From their work with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Thunderbirds raised more than $10 million for Arizona charities. (Photo by Perry Cohen/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX  — The Thunderbirds announced another record-breaking performance for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This time, it wasn’t just about attendance.

At the newly-renovated emergency department at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, tournament chairman Andy Markham revealed Wednesday the 2017 event raised $10,147,441 in charitable donations.

The total eclipses the previous record, set in 2016, by approximately $850,000 and marks the sixth year in a row the Thunderbirds have set a new fundraising high.

All proceeds raised at the tournament by the Thunderbirds are donated toward a variety of Arizona Charities.

Since its inception in 1932, the Phoenix Open and Thunderbirds have raised more than $122,000,000 in charitable donations.

Janette Micelli, manager of external communication for Waste Management, said the high dollar amount is impacted by attendance.

“We certainly set a record attendance number this year,” Micelli said. “What people don’t realize is just by attending the tournament, buying a ticket, drinking a beverage, by having a hot dog, all of the money that comes together goes directly back into the community.”

Micelli also noted that this year’s tournament marked the fifth straight year of zero waste, supporting an initiative for a cleaner, greener Arizona.

A percentage of the money raised is donated to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. In 2015, the Thunderbirds made their largest charitable donation directly to the hospital: $500,000 to help expand the emergency department.

When the pediatric hospital opened in 1983, it consisted of 71 beds. Today, it holds 450 and is the sixth-largest children’s hospital in the nation.

“As a children’s hospital, all of the services we have rely on the philanthropy of the community,” said Toni Gross, associate director of the emergency department. “Just the space of this place couldn’t be made possible without the donations.”

The donations help the hospital run more efficiently and relieve stress from the patients and families that are in need, Gross said.

“We see everybody. It doesn’t matter what their socioeconomic status is.”

The Thunderbirds’ beneficiaries include youth sports. The philanthropic group donates to youth sports monthly, rather than the large yearly donations they give to other areas.

“Thunderbirds were found with the motto of promoting the Valley of the Sun through sports,” Markham said. “We’ve always been a sports- and youth-based charity.”

One organization directly impacted by the support is Arizona Special Olympics, which is solely funded by donations. Aside from law enforcement, the Thunderbirds are the largest donor group partnered with Special Olympics.

The Thunderbirds completely fund the young athlete’s division (ages 2½ to 7) and work directly with them, said Sarah Haines, Special Olympics’ Senior Director of Volunteers and Competitions.

“We bring our athletes out to do the celebrity putting contest,” Haines said. “It’s a chance for our athletes to putt with their golf heroes and local celebrities and it means a lot for them to get the same kind of limelight that those celebrities have.”

Large donations from the Thunderbirds and other Arizona-based charity groups allow the Special Olympics to provide its 20,000 athletes with cost-free training and competition.

The Thunderbirds and Waste Management both announced they would also be making donations toward the recent hurricane relief efforts.

Waste Management pledged to donate $3 million toward the relief effort in Houston, the headquarter base of the company.

The 2018 Phoenix Open is scheduled to start Jan, 29 at the TPC Scottsdale.

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