JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Bill Sharp, associate broker and co-owner of Exit 1 Stop Realty in Jacksonville, knows his way around a tennis court. He was a Division I collegiate player at both the University of South Florida and University of North Florida in the late 1980s, before entering the “real world” and beginning his career in real estate.
So, when Sharp decided to give back to his community, he founded a charitable tennis tournament called Serving Up a Cure. “I’ve always wanted to do something to give back but didn’t really know how,” he says. It crystallized for him one day during a birthday lunch celebration.
“We bought the birthday girl a lottery ticket and asked her what she would do if she hit the big time. She said she wouldn’t come back to work,” laughs Sharp. But the birthday girl then explained that because she works so hard, she doesn’t have time to help other people as much as she’d like.
“That comment resonated with me and was the push I needed to start something,” he says.
Sharp recalls, “A buddy of mine (Brian Monroe with Sawgrass Asset Management in Jacksonville) also played college tennis. He and I decided to develop a charitable tennis tournament that raises money for two cancer-related charities.”
The result: In 2011, Serving Up a Cure was born. This yearly tennis tournament has raised more than $145,000 for two cancer charities in the past five years. Held in February at Deerwood Country Club, the tournament is a three-day event that includes men’s, women’s and mixed doubles – no singles. It draws more than 250 tennis players, from those fresh off the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour to beginners. In addition, there are several related events held during those three days, including dinners and other functions.
Monroe and Sharp chose to support two charities close to their hearts. The first, called the Ellie Kavalieros DIPG Research Fund, was founded in 2011 and provides critical support for innovative research for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a type of brain tumor. Ellie lived in Sharp’s Deerwood Country Club neighborhood and was diagnosed with this rare form of cancer. She died about a year after her diagnosis. “I was inspired by how she handled herself despite having cancer,” says Sharp.
The second charity supported by the tournament is Mayo Clinic’s Gabriel House of Care, an affordable extended-stay hospitality house for cancer and organ transplant patients receiving medical care away from their homes and caregivers. Jorge and Leslie Bacardi (of Barcardi rum) donated about $8.5 million to build the house after Jorge received a double lung transplant from a 21-year old man who died of a brain aneurysm.
“I was compelled to give to this charity because the story of Jorge Barcardi was so powerful.” Sharp explains. “In addition, I could walk over to the House anytime and see how the money we were donating was being used.”
The tournament gets better and more successful every year, Sharp says.
“The first year, we netted $15,000; this past year we netted about $32,000,” he says. Those proceeds came despite the fact that the event was rained out this year. And, because the event was rained out, Sharp was left with an abundance of food.
Not wanting it to spoil or go to waste, he “took the food over to the Gabriel House and listened to the stories of those staying there. These are people dealing with illness and things that I can’t even comprehend,” says Sharp. “It made me realize how big an impact we are making on people’s lives.”
Meeting the Challenge
Organizing the tournament is challenging. “We have about 40 volunteers who help us with everything from scheduling to finding sponsors and serving food,” he says. “We also have a lot of local businesses that support us by donating money and food.”
In addition, Exit Realty agents have “stepped up in a big way” to help out.
For Sharp, who also plays in the tournament, the work never ends.
“I never realized how much time it would take to coordinate an event that hosts about 250 players. It’s a year-round commitment. You’re always trying to raise money, secure sponsors and find new ways to make the event unique or better for the players,” he says.
Regardless, says Sharp, “the people who come every year become friends, and that’s rewarding to me.”