Willowbrook Middle School students and staff emerge equal winners in renamed Tony Barlow Charity Games


Mike Rhines gave a special plaque to the family of Tony Barlow, commemorating the name change to "The Tony Barlow Charity Games," complete with a photo of Tony when he was on the basketball team at Prairie Hill School.

Staff and students at Willowbrook Middle School sported blue shirts, gear, and even crazy socks, on Thursday, March 21, 2024 for the newly named Tony Barlow Charity Games, showing the loving spirit of WMS, "Bleeding Blue" with pride.

That evening the George Palmer Gymnasium was packed wall to wall with students, alumni, community and special guests in a 35 year old event that proved to be full of heart and soul.

Kicking off the action, the staff took on students in a friendly competition against the varsity girls volleyball team.

The girls varsity team beat the staff in three, close volleyball games.

In basketball, the staff made a comeback from almost 10 points down, to win with a score of 50-41 over the boys basketball squad.

Staff played against the varsity boys basketball team, winning with a score of 50-41.

A hush fell over the room as Michael Rhines welcomed everyone to the annual charity night. Rhines, a fifth grade teacher and athletic director, organized the event. All the honorees of the evening were surrounded by all of the teams who played.

Rhines said, "This is an evening when our girls volleyball team and varsity boys basketball team get to play against our Prairie Hill and Willowbrook staff."

“This is also an evening where we use this opportunity to collect non-perishable food items. Money that we make from our concession stand goes toward helping an area organization, which we have continued doing for the past 35 years. This organization is DEFY- Domestic Abuse- Beloit Center.” The program is part of Family Services of Southern Wisconsin, supported by the the United Way Blackhawk Region.

Rhines recognized and introduced Jenny Tschundy and Kelsey Hood-Christensen from DEFY.

A re-dedication of the event was held in loving memory of Tony Barlow, with special guests in attendance.

Tony Barlow graduated as an 8th grader from Prairie Hill School in 1990. This was back when the school was one building with a kindergarten through eighth grade, before Willowbrook Middle School was opened.

Tony was the student who came up with the idea for the charity game, asking his coach, Rich Gurnett, if his 8th grade basketball team could play a game against the teachers.

Rhines said, “Tony approached me in his 8th grade year, in 1989-1990, wanting to play the staff in a basketball game. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Since then, the game has morphed to include the girls volleyball team, with all food and money donations supporting this local violence shelter.

Tragically, Tony was killed by a hit and run driver on McCurry Road in 1994, just a few months after graduating from Hononegah.

“His life and this event is a great symbol of Tony's spirit; however, so we want to focus and celebrate that,” Rhines said.

Rhines added, “Between the games that Tony enjoyed playing in, and the band which he also played in, this is a great tribute!”

“Tonight we have Tony's dad Sam and mom Bev, in addition to his sister Amanda (who was in my first class in 1989) and Amanda's husband Dominic with their two sons, Sal and Sam.”

Rhines asked the crowd to give a warm welcome to this family who had graciously come to the event.

Everyone stood and loud applause filled the room during both presentations.

WMS choir members performed a beautiful and memorable rendition of the national anthem before the basketball games started.

With cheers and yelling, the high energy basketball games commenced. These games held deeper meaning.

During the games, sounds of the band came from the stands.

The Willowbrook Middle School band played from the stands during the games.

After the games, through generous donations, the school was able to deliver a truck load of food.

Rhines said, “Family Services, who oversees DEFY-Domestic Abuse Beloit, was beyond words when Chuck Leonard and I dropped off all of the food we had collected.”

Mrs. Werner & Mrs. Silecchia of the WMS Booster Club wrote a check for $1,026 which was also given to the abuse shelter.

Rhines expressed many thanks to those who came to work the concessions, collected cans, worked the score table, refereed, supervised, and supported every part of the event.

The Tony Barlow Charity Games carried a positive impact with visitors who commented on the event.

“I absolutely love that you did this. Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting Tony, I quite often pass by where he was killed on my way home, and I say a little prayer for him and his family. I didn't realize the connection he had with Prairie Hill until you shared this information with all of us. Thank you for making this event happen for our school and the Barlow family. “

“The family seemed very honored by your efforts in promoting and renaming the games to the Tony Barlow event. I was impressed by both teams, students and teachers giving their all for their wins. I nearly lost my voice rooting for everyone!”

“Such a great event. Thanks for doing this every year and honoring Tony's memory. I never knew him of course. But you have really kept his memory alive. God bless his family.”

Now known as the Tony Barlow Charity Games, Tony's legacy and spirit lives on, in the way that he loved, and lived.

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