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Bikers and Balls event benefits autism group, Portage Food Pantry

WiscNews - 6/24/2019

Jun. 24--A rainy forecast dampened turnout, but about 60 people still showed up to Saddle Ridge Golf Course on Saturday -- rewarded by sunny skies -- to raise money for autism and the Portage Food Pantry for the first annual Bikers and Balls event.

The golf course and on-site restaurant Johnny B's Rolling Smoke organized the fundraiser to fill a space vacated by a now-dissolved breast cancer event, said Liz Bliese, a co-owner of the restaurant. They chose nonprofit organization Navigating Autism as a beneficiary because of its local connection -- its founders live in Portage -- "and then we just thought that the Portage Food Pantry could use help," Bliese said.

Navigating Autism co-founder Ralph Tolzmann expressed gratitude for the donation.

"Liz and John (Bliese) are wonderful people," Tolzmann said. "We come here for their food, and they kind of surprised us with it. They're awesome, and Margie (Druce, owner of Saddle Ridge) with the golfing thing -- that was just a total surprise. It's really awesome."

"Balls" refers to the golf scramble aspect of the event, while "Bikers" refers to the coinciding poker run, in which motorcyclists and others who don't want to golf make stops at four bars and draw cards to make a hand of poker. The person with the best hand wins a prize, Bliese said.

The idea to include a poker run came from one of Navigating Autism's main fundraisers -- a Scrabble run, where instead of cards, motorcyclists collect letter tiles to make words. Tolzmann said he loves riding motorcycles.

He and his wife, Danielle, founded Navigating Autism in 2009 after their son, now 17, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

"There wasn't a lot of things out there that you could really do to find out what autism is all about, what services are available for people, what funds are out there available for people," he said.

So, they decided to create a website that would provide families with resources and information, including definitions of the various terminology.

Funds donated through Bikers and Balls will be used to enhance the Navigating Autism website and fund the organization's efforts, such as hosting informational seminars and classes. The nonprofit also offers scholarships for families to attend Autism Society of Wisconsin conferences, Tolzmann said.

Bliese estimated a total of more than $2,800 was raised for the two organizations.

Businesses sponsored holes for the fundraiser and other items for raffles and a silent auction. Organizers also arranged for live music in the afternoon. Bliese said they're hoping to make it an annual event benefitting different nonprofit organizations.

While she had expected anywhere from 75-100 people to participate Saturday, Tolzmann blamed a bad forecast in the week leading up to the fundraiser for lowering the number of bikers. Fifteen teams of four golfers each attended.

"A smaller turnout for bikes, but the golfing thing has been amazing," he said.

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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