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Swingin’ for a cure in Newton County
101-year-old war vets helping support 32nd annual tournament benefiting fight against childhood cancer
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World War II veterans James Watkins and Jennings Watkins, who are twins, and Bo Cline, all 101 years old, plan to be at the 32nd Annual Golf Classic for Cure Childhood Cancer at The Oaks Golf Course in Covington on Sept. 24 to help support chief tournament organizer Joe Coleman in his effort to raise funds to fight the disease. From left are James Watkins, Jennings Watkins, Coleman and Cline. (Special | Joe Coleman)

COVINGTON, Ga. — Joe Coleman remembers being told his 2-year-old daughter had little chance of surviving her leukemia for very long.

That was about 34 years ago and his daughter, Shannon, is now 36.

“At that time, they were given little chance for survival,” Coleman said.

But he also became a supporter and board member of Atlanta nonprofit CURE Childhood Cancer, and has helped organize the annual Golf Classic for CURE Childhood Cancer at The Oaks golf course in Covington since 1989.

Three longtime tournament supporters — all 101 years old and World War II veterans — plan to join Coleman during the 32nd annual tournament scheduled for Friday, Sept. 24, at The Oaks golf course at 11240 Brown Bridge Road.

The three, Coleman’s stepfather Bo Cline and twin brothers James and Jennings Watkins, have attended and participated in almost all of the tournaments that benefit a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for research and equipment to treat childhood cancers.

The tournament has raised about $2.5 million for CURE Childhood Cancer in its 31 years of existence, said Coleman, a tournament founder.

In addition, in the past decade the nonprofit has raised $32 million and added financial and emotional support services for patients’ families to its task list, as well, according to its website.

Coleman cited statistics showing cancer is the second-leading cause of death in children. However, the cure rate for childhood cancer patients has increased from 50% to 90% since his daughter was diagnosed because of medical advances, he said.

“Our goal is to find a cure for childhood cancer in our lifetimes,” Coleman said.

Coleman and others have worked over the years to maximize the amount of money they raise during the tournament. 

In addition to corporate donors, such as Coleman’s own company, the tournament also has received in-kind donations from such local businesses as Bradley BBQ, Chick-fil-A and QuikTrip, Coleman said.

It features raffles, goodie bags and other extras for participants, which could total as many as 200 golfers by the end of registration, Coleman said. 

He said he hopes to raise at least $100,000 for CURE — after raising $70,000 from the 2020 event done virtually because of the pandemic.

“It’s a really great time,” he said.

The number of participants prompted organizers to separate them into two groups — one beginning with an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start and the other with a 1:30 p.m. start, he said.

Jennings Watkins, an Army veteran and retired Atlanta businessman, said he will not be among those out on the greens at The Oaks.

“My golfing days are over,” he said. “Two years ago I did some putting and some short drives.”

He said he and his brother wanted to attend the event to show their support for Coleman and CURE.

“Joe is a personal friend of mine,” Watkins said. “We’ve been knowing one another for 40 years.”

Watkins watched out for invading Nazi ships and submarines while stationed in Newfoundland on the Atlantic coast of Canada during World War II. 

He and his brother founded Atlanta Motor Lines soon after each returned from the war. Their trucking company saw Atlanta’s road system evolve from surface highway-based to one dominated by interstate highways before they sold it.

Coleman operates a truck maintenance company in Lithonia and lives in DeKalb County. However, he has organized the tournament for 31 years in Covington because of his lifelong friendship with course operator Richard Schulz — with whom he grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In 1989, Coleman tapped into his friendship with Schulz — the then-new operator of the golf course on Brown Bridge Road — to create the major fundraiser for CURE.

Schulz and wife, Nancy, now operate The Oaks course. Mrs. Schulz said the beneficiary of the tournament holds a place in her heart “for personal reasons.” 

Her first job out of nursing school was at Egleston Hospital in Atlanta where she was assigned to the floor for cancer patients under age 2, she said.

“We think we’re making a difference,” she said.

Organizers are still seeking players and sponsors for the Golf Classic tournament. Though the morning session beginning at 8:30 a.m. is full, organizers are taking registrations for the 1:30 p.m. session of the tournament through Thursday, Sept. 23. 

Cost is $150 for one golfer or $600 for a foursome, with all proceeds going to CURE Childhood Cancer. For more information, call 770-313-5626.

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From left, Dave Marlowe, JP Uren, Brad Parker and Dean Riede stop to pose for a photo with Joe Coleman during the last in-person Golf Classic for Cure Childhood Cancer in 2019 at The Oaks. Its 2020 tournament was a virtual event because of the pandemic. (Special | Joe Coleman)