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Firefighters use golf shoes, not boots, to raise money

Because of a county policy banning roadside solicitation, a golf tournament is the main fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

This time of year, residents have come to expect to see firefighters out on U.S. 19 with boot in hand seeking donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

But in October, Hernando County commissioners banned roadside and median solicitations.

Instead, firefighters with Spring Hill Fire and Rescue have pinned their fundraising goals this year on a golf tournament benefit Aug. 21.

"Since we can't collect money in the street anymore, this is the only means we have to collect money for MDA," tournament organizer John Liparito said.

"This is kind of unchartered waters for us," said Lt. John Ferriero, president of the Spring Hill firefighters union. "We miss the boot drive. We hope to generate as much money with the golf tournament."

This is the second annual golf tournament, but it will be a tall order to equal the money raised through the annual boot drive, which netted $8,000 for MDA last year. Last year's golf tournament raised $2,000, Liparito said.

Despite heavy lobbying from the firefighters, the county commissioners did away with all roadside solicitations because of safety concerns.

Liparito is convinced that one aggressive group, a church from Tampa that did street solicitations, "ruined it for everybody."

"They made a pest of themselves," Liparito said.

Though it was always hot, firefighters looked forward to the annual boot drive, Liparito said.

"We always had a blast doing it," he said.

Said Ferriero: "The firefighters and the boot drive have been synonymous for years and years. It (the commissioners' ban) still stings."

The firefighters could have run a boot drive standing outside a major shopping center, but they would not have raised nearly the amount of money they did when they stood on U.S. 19, Ferriero said. In just one hour, he said, they could raise $1,200 there.

This year's fundraising efforts have been concentrated on the golf tournament, which will begin with a shotgun start at noon at the Oak Hills Golf Course.

Hooters will provide free food and host the awards ceremony at its new Spring Hill restaurant on U.S. 19 after the tournament.

Other businesses have donated door prizes, and, to date, the firefighters have gotten 35 businesses and individuals to sponsor golf holes for $50 each. Already 50 players have signed up to play, up from 36 last year.

Because of the county's ban on street solicitations, Ferriero sent each commissioner a note asking for their support for the golf tournament. Commissioners Pat Novy and Paul Sullivan sponsored holes, and Commissioner Chris Kingsley told Ferriero he would show up with a foursome to play.

The tournament is $45 per person. Applications to play may be picked up at any of the Spring Hill fire stations, or call Liparito at 686-1802. Proceeds will go to MDA.