LUTZ, Fla — Kiley Robles chuckled as she watched her golf ball dribble down the fairway. Her friends all smiled as Robles shrugged her shoulders.
Golf isn’t her sport.
Robles is a freshman studying health sciences at the University of Vermont. She also plays on the club hockey team in college. Neither might have been possible without the generosity of a family foundation.
“This thing started very, very small. We went from raising $22,000 in our first year and this year to raising $316,000,” said Bob Ritchie, co-founder of the Jason Ritchie Hockey Foundation. “Cumulatively, since 2009, our little foundation has raised $1.6 million.”
The numbers are staggering for the decade-old foundation. In 2009, Bob and his wife, Donna, started the foundation after the death of their son.
“May 1, 2009,” Donna recalled, seated in front of a large banner bearing the foundation logo. “Jason was coming home from a hockey game. A single-car accident. We think he fell asleep.”
Jason Ritchie was 22 when he died. Now, an annual golf tournament established by the foundation draws so much money, that his passion for hockey is passed on in many ways.
“This is a cornerstone event,” Bob said from the back porch of the TPC Tampa Bay clubhouse, overlooking the 18th green. “It’s a legacy event for us. You see 40 sports legends come out here to donate their time and raise money. It really has become an anchor event for the foundation.”
The Ritchie Hockey Foundation aims to get kids interested in hockey or help them continue to play the game. It also establishes scholarships for hockey players to attend college. In ten years, the foundation has seen recipients go on to become pilots, a U.S. Marine and a female professional hockey player.
Dozens of professional athletes from across the NFL, MLB, and NHL gathered to play 18 holes in support of the Ritchie Hockey Foundation Friday morning.
“You know, it all goes back to hockey obviously and their story is a story that we want to be part of,” said former Tampa Bay Lightning captain and Stanley Cup champion Dave Andreychuk.
He and another Lightning alumni, Brian Bradley, Adam Hall, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Jassen Cullimore, among others, were part of the hockey contingent who took part in the event. Past scholarship recipients played alongside Robles.
“I got to play with them last year,” said Cullimore, who played for the Lightning from 1997 to 2004. “I got to hear how important this is to them.”
The Ritchie Foundation has a partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Guide the Thunder” program, of which Cullimore serves as a coach.
Thursday night, the foundation hosted a baseball skills clinic at the University of Tampa. On Saturday, it will offer a free hockey clinic for kids in Wesley Chapel.
The main focus is scholarships and helping kids get to college.
“It’s just such a powerful message that I think it’s easy to see why so many people have gravitated towards it,” said Hall.
“It helped my family financially and just to know that I am a part of the Richie family now is amazing,” she said. “They will do anything for you.”
It’s what Jason would have wanted.
“We hope we’re doing Jason proud, more importantly, allowing the next generation to succeed,” said his dad with a smile.
Read about past scholarship recipients on the foundation website.
What other people are reading right now: