If there's one defining difference between Elite Anglers and other professional athletes, it is approachability. Nowhere else will you find athletes so willing to go out of their way to help others, even when there's nothing tangible in it for them. This is exemplified by the recent outpouring of support for Ronnie Phillips, a 13-year old Pennsylvania boy who recently had a liver transplant and was diagnosed with Burkitt's leukemia.
Rick Ash spearheaded a benefit tournament to be held August 16, 2008, on the Upper Chesapeake Bay after he was contacted by Ronnie's grandfather, a member of the Tri County Bassmasters, of which Ronnie is also a member. Ash and Ronnie's grandfather thought a bass tournament would be the best way to relate to Ronnie's family, as he and his father are both avid fishermen. It is quickly turning into the most successful as well.
"When Ronnie's grandpa contacted me and told me they were planning a tournament, I immediately wanted to help," Ash said, "I started calling my Elite friends, and we're getting a strong support base for this tournament, whether it is guys coming to fish, or sending stuff to be auctioned or raffled off. The Elite guys are so great about stuff like this."
As word got out in the local newspapers, support began pouring in. The tournament has grown well past anyone's expectations, as it was predicted to have around 100 boats, but will exceed that thanks to Ash and fellow Elite anglers. Ronnie's family has been overwhelmed by the support Elite Anglers have shown and by the encouraging words written in the guestbook on Ronnie's Web page. However, the extent of angler support goes further than a pat on the back. Donations of fishing merchandise such as signed jerseys and tackle have created a buzz around the tournament.
"We're going to raffle off a lot of prizes, including a chance to fish the tournament with an Elite Series pro," Ash said. "We've got so much going on, this is going to be such a great opportunity for everyone to help Ronnie and his family out."
Word of Ronnie's plight even reached the NASCAR realm. One of the prizes will be a meet and greet with Clint Bowyer and Richard Childress of RCR Racing when the Sprint Cup Series goes back to Pocono in August. As Ash sees it, there isn't a more deserving young man for this benefit.
"Ronnie is such an outstanding kid, I've fished with him before, and he is an excellent angler," Ash said. "This kid has gone through more in one month than most of us will endure in a lifetime."