Originally created 03/20/01

Hank Aaron speaks at local youth function



Dan Barnard watched Hank Aaron make baseball history in 1974 when the Atlanta Braves slugger smashed his 715th career home run.

So when Barnard had a chance to hear Aaron speak at the 14th annual Boys & Girls Club Steak & Burger Dinner on Monday night at the Augusta State University Athletic Complex, he seized the opportunity.

"I had a friend who had an extra ticket," said Barnard, who attended the dinner with his 6-year old son, Joseph. "Since (my friend) had no children, he thought this would be nice to share with (Joseph).

"I had heard about this and thought it would be great for the both of us. I watched Hank Aaron hit (the record-breaking) home run when I was 10 years old, and since (Joseph) has an interest in baseball, I thought it would be nice for him to see a legend. That's something he'll always remember."

More than 1,100 people attended the event, which serves as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Augusta and Thomson's biggest fund-raiser of the year. The ceremony honored outstanding youngsters in athletics and other club activities, and each recipient received not only an award but also a baseball autographed by Aaron.

While Aaron was the highlight of the evening, most of the children involved in the Boys & Girls Club seemed to enjoy the burgers and the chocolate and vanilla cake.

Joseph Barnard didn't appear to be interested in any of the festivities until a short highlight reel of Aaron's career was shown before he addressed the crowd. The video immediately grabbed the younger Barnard's attention.

"Hank Aaron is popular, and he hit a lot of home runs," Joseph said.

Aaron, a board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, told the audience about the club's benefits. He compared the game of baseball to the game of life.

"I learned a lot of lessons on the baseball diamond. ... Every pitch presents a new opportunity to succeed or fail," Aaron told the crowd. "Even if you strike out, there's another chance at the plate. But if you don't keep your head in the game, you'll find yourself making mistakes.

"Believe in yourself and follow your dream is the message of the Boys & Girls Club. The Boys & Girls Club of Augusta and Thomson gives you a lot of positives to believe in yourself, and the club can help you get there."

Charlie Eidson, who served as board member and chairman of the 14th annual Steak & Burger Dinner, hopes this year's event will net more than $200,000.

"Last year, this event grossed more than $200,000, and we netted about $170,000," Eidson said. "But (the support for this year's event) was overwhelming."

Proceeds from the event benefit the Edward W. Hagler and the Dogwood Terrace Clubs in Augusta as well as the newest club in Thomson. Eidson and the club board members face a tough task of trying to duplicate this year's event in the upcoming years.

"I don't know how we can top this one," Eidson said. "But we're going to try. We've had some good speakers in the past."

Dan Barnard was a member of the Boys Club as a youngster in Savannah, and he said he had thought about getting Joseph involved.

"I was thinking about it," he said. "This was real nice. I think it's good to recognize kids for all their hard work."

Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216 or timmorse@augustachronicle.com