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Gibson ‘blessed’ by response for charity golf event

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Grand Blanc — The jokes still came easily for Kirk Gibson, the razzing of friends as they stood at the tee, swinging away and trying to knock a golf ball down the center of the fairway.

Gibson had the one-liners ready at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club on Monday, site of the inaugural Kirk Gibson Golf Classic, an event designed to raise money to increase research and awareness of Parkinson’s disease.

The Tigers legend was diagnosed with the disease in April 2015, and since then has expanded the Kirk Gibson Foundation to attack the illness, pushing the ideas of collaboration and teamwork.

Monday’s event was just that, 144 golfers — many former teammates and friends — ready to do their part. And that meant hearing from Gibson, whether they were wearing a Michigan shirt like his friend Mike Jolly or hitting their tee shot on No. 1 a little off to the right and flirting with the trees like Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis.

“I’ve been blessed,” Gibson said of the support he’s received. “These guys have been unbelievable since they found out I had it. We’ve all supported each other and (the golf outing) was really a private thing. We never really went public with it until recently that we were gonna have it and then it filled up pretty good.”

Golf began at 11 a.m. and was followed by dinner and an auction, all emceed by actor Tom Arnold.

In addition to Hollis, other notable names and faces in attendance included former Tigers Alan Trammell and Dave Rozema and former NBA All-Star Alonzo Mourning.

“It’s a long day but for a good cause,” Gibson said. “We have a lot of things going on.”

It should come as no surprise Gibson has added the fight against Parkinson’s to his foundation. He always went at things full throttle on the field as a player and manager, and now he’s doing the same off the field.

Gibson, 59, first formed his foundation in 1996 as a way to support students at Waterford Kettering and Clarkston high schools, where his parents, Robert and Barbara, taught for many years. Through the foundation students at both schools have been provided scholarships.

“I want to raise awareness about it and I want to try to assemble a good team of people and rally people that are already involved in it,” Gibson said. “I think I’ve always been pretty good at being a good teammate. I’ve chosen to become more involved and do what I can do to try and not just help me — obviously I’ve studied and understand the scope of the challenge to find a cure for Parkinson’s.”

Gibson has continued to work as an analyst on Fox Sports Detroit for Tigers games since his diagnosis, and that’s just one way he believes he can help.

“I want people to understand what Parkinson’s is,” Gibson said. “When I first got it, you think you’re going to die. It’s not really like that at all and I want people to know what they should do, who they should go to. If you start taking medication, what it means. I travel around this state on my snowmobile in the U.P., I meet people up there and they don’t necessarily go to the right person. It’s really critical to do the right thing when you’re diagnosed and see the proper type doctor, neurologist, movement specialist, and understand the options.

“Again, I’m just trying to promote and people have a lot of questions and I have the ability to be part of the team and be part of the answer and be part of the solution.”

Gibson said he still plays plenty of golf, though he was too busy to join the outing Monday. He’s also fit in time to see his son, Cam, play this summer for the West Michigan Whitecaps and is anxious to watch his alma mater — Michigan State — on the football field this fall.

“We have great leadership at Michigan State ... and it starts there with (Hollis) and Lou Anna Simon,” Gibson said. “Hollis has done a great job, (Mark) Dantonio, Tom Izzo. Talk about collaboration and sharing information and cooperation, they’re the picture of it.

“They support one another, they are a rock and together they understand they can achieve more.”

It’s just how Gibson wants things to go with the Kirk Gibson Foundation and its work with Parkinson’s disease.

“My foundation is not huge and don’t know that it ever will be,” Gibson said. “But I think I have the ability to have an impact on how things are done and I am gonna try and find a way to be efficient, make good smart decisions and promote collaboration amongst people who maybe normally wouldn’t collaborate together.”