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Detroit Lions come to Orion for charity



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Lion Calvin Johnson rolls a bocce ball as former running back Bobby Thompson watches. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
May 30, 2012 - Lake Orion is at no lack for charitable people and many of those people gathered May 23 for a charity at Palazzo Di Bocce on S. Lapeer Road to hold a special bocce-themed event.

Thanks to the Detroit Lion's Charity, residents from the Orion area had a chance to play bocce with Head Coach Jim Schwartz and about 40 Detroit Lions, including Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.

"It went very well. We raised in excess of $90,000 and had over 400 people there which was a little higher than we expected," said Kim Doverspike, Detroit Lions Charity Interim Director for Community Affairs. "We had great feedback and even the players and Coach Schwartz had a great time. It was a really positive energy. This year seemed bigger with all the positive energy and excitement over the Lions and that makes the event more exciting."

The event worked by selling tickets for $100, banners for $1,000 and sponsorships for bocce ball teams for $2,500. The Lions themselves got involved in the bocceball and most teams had two Lions apiece.

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"The players loved it - they always get on the courts and then don't want to get off," said Doverspike. "Tight End Will Heller was even on the winning team."

The event, which saw attendance from a number of locals including Orion Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel and Veteran Memorial Chairman Dr. Joe Mastromatteo, is in its eighth year running baring the 2011 NFL lockout. The official title of the event used to be the Detroit Lions Palazzo Di Bocce Charity Event, but when the founder of the Wright & Fillipis foundation died in 2007, the event was named after him, making it the The Tony Fillipis Memorial. Wright & Fillipis is a company that sells home medical equipment and, in relation to the Detroit Lion's Charity, offers prosthetics for injured or disabled athletes.

Palazzo Di Bocce Owner Tony Batalia said the event began when friend and former Lion's Head Coach Steve Mariucci suggested running an event at Batalia's new restaurant similar to one he ran when he coached the San Francisco 49ers. From there they talked to the Lions, representatives from Ford Motor Company and the rest is history.

"The total amount raised probably comes close to $750,000 for the eight years it's been going. The first year we pulled in $250,000 and as the team is doing better the event will get even bigger," said Batalia. "I donate all the food and the building, I don't get paid, the Lions don't get paid and the Wright & Fillipis doesn't get paid. We all donate our time and money so that each of us gets a third of the proceeds to donate to our charities.

"I donate to things in Orion like the Orion Lion's Club and the veteran's memorial so I pass mine out to the local and that works out really good."

Those organizations were also represented at the event and Lake Orion Lion's Club Treasurer Mary Rodgers said they were one of the biggest charities to get proceeds from the event. The Lion's Club, much like the event, divides their earnings up for different charities and causes. They supply food to the less fortunate during Christmas, donate money to make areas more handicap accessible, give out eyeglasses, donate kidneys and much more.

"From what I know it turned out really good - there were full bocce teams which is always a good sign," said Rodgers. "Last year, (Batalia) donated to a number of different charities like Oxford/Orion FISH, the Boys and Girls Club but we usually get the largest chunk. We then take that money and we buys goods for people who cannot."

Meanwhile, Mastromatteo continued his efforts to raise money for the Orion Veterans Memorial, which is now in its nineteenth year of construction. While the final addition - four bronze statues - is paid for, the loans taken out to construct them are not.

"(Tony's) been very kind to us and remember us year after year," said Mastromatteo. I think about $1 million has gone into the memorial from materials, gifts and donations. We're in such depressed economic times I'm surprised he even held (the event.) God bless him for that."

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