■ BY SUE ERWIN
The 2019 Raymond James and RSA Boca Grande Classic was tremendously successful this year, netting more than $240,000 for a very good cause.
The objective of this annual event is to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an organization with a mission to cure cystic fibrosis by funding research and drug development to provide all people with the disease the opportunity to lead full and productive lives.
One young lady with a special connection to Boca Grande spoke at the welcome reception and dinner; 17-year-old Emily Chandler has battled cystic fibrosis for years, and Boca Grande has been a big part of her family for more than 11 years. She uses her strength and resiliency to continue to fight CF every day. She is a graduating senior at Lakewood Ranch High School and is very involved with the marching band and jazz band. She said the band director at the school was very supportive, in that he worked with her when she needed a break when her lungs weren’t functioning at full capacity.
She finished in the top 10 percent of her class and took several college-level courses.
Her father, Jeff Chandler, was one of the co-founders of the Boca Grande Classic. With the help of others, he partnered with Raymond James and The Gasparilla Inn to create this event.
“Boca Grande is a very special place, and we are so happy to have the support of The Inn,” Jeff said.
Emily had surgery the week prior to the event, so she was unable to actually get out on the water and fish this year. It was the first time in nine years she didn’t take part in the tournament, but she had some heartwarming things to say during her speech.
“This year was the first time I was hospitalized in six years – which is pretty good for a CF patient – and I am hoping for six more,” Emily said as the crowd cheered.
She’ll be attending the University of South Florida this fall, with plans to major in pre-med.
“I am really looking forward to going away to school just like any other normal young person,” she said. “I just want to thank everyone here for their support. I’ve been coming to this island since I was in elementary school, and I have grown up with this island family. A lot of what you do out here is amazing, and I really appreciate you all.”
Sharon Cross of The Gasparilla Inn said the first tournament in Boca Grande was in 2009.
“The Inn was interested in joining the special cause and being a part of finding a cure for the disease,” Cross said. “It is a cause close to us, as I lost two siblings to CF.
Sport fishermen from around the world gathered to take part in this exciting and challenging event hosted by The Gasparilla Inn & Club.
Celebrity Ed Marinaro served as host and emcee for the event, which attracted dozens of anglers to support the cause.
The annual event and fishing tournament were held from May 7 through May 9 at The Gasparilla Inn & Club.
Points in the tournament are awarded per species, and bonus points are awarded for a slam, which is a tarpon, snook, redfish and trout.
“It is a beautiful thing that has happened right here in Boca Grande,” said Bob Melvin, an organizer and supporter of the event.
“We would like to thank all of our Palm Island friends who have supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through the years and especially recognize Dean Beckstead and the Palm Island Resort family that originally brought this event to our area. We have now raised $2,000,000 here in Boca Grande for the Foundation. We are making a big difference for these kids with the money we are raising.”
Emily’s dad said he is hoping for another great turnout at the event next year.
“The community in Boca Grande is top notch,” he said. “We are looking forward to another amazing event next year. It can’t come soon enough.”