I have to give tremendous credit to Fight for Children CEO and President Keith Gordon and his team. I don’t know how they do it, but each year Fight Night gets better and better and last Thursday night was no exception. Please allow me to take you inside.
The gala started with the reception and silent auction. This part of the evening has customarily served as the prelude to the main event inside the Washington Hilton’s ballroom. However, the initial portion of the festivities has become more substantial, and now competes for utter enjoyment with the formal program. First of all, several attendees commented to me positively regarding the Code of Conduct that greeted them at the entrance. It was a classy touch that seemed perfectly appropriate in the wake of the #metoomovement that had the organizers replace the women hostesses in red gowns of previous years with male and female waiters in sports officiating attire.
In the middle of this hall was an elevated square stage with a disc jockey in the middle spinning high-energy tunes. On each of the four corners were individuals in the waiter’s uniform providing interpretive dancing to the music. Throughout the room were a plethora of open bars plus the availability of signature drinks from a wide variety of liquor purveyors. Since I felt that my job as a reporter was to completely experience the offerings I tried the “Dominicana” from Brugal Rum.
The theme of the event was “Progress in Play” that echoed Fight for Children’s new strategic direction around supporting high-quality organized sports activities for low-income youth. Therefore, found interspersed between the items for bid were placards highlighting the work of six recent grantees that support this mission, as well as other posters extolling the academic benefits of participating in athletic activities for students. This information was also available on rotating basis on a gigantic screen located at the back of the room.
Naturally, professional team mascots filled the room such as Screech from the Nats. Wizards cheerleaders posed for pictures with the attendees, and as has been the case recently, there were games that guests could play stationed along the perimeter while enjoying refreshments including hot dogs and hamburger sliders with hot pretzel nuggets. Participants tried their hand at shooting baskets, sinking golf balls on a putting green, becoming a boxer hitting a punching bag, or driving hockey pucks into holes on a target. One of the most fascinating was one station that used virtual reality to simulate being a batter at a baseball game.
At one point I ran into Hilary Darilek, the CEO of E.L. Hayne PCS. I was excited that it was recently revealed that her high school and elementary school are ranked at Tier 1 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework and I congratulated her on this achievement. I was also able to say hello to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. In addition, I caught up with Fight for Children board chair Raul Fernandez, vice chairman and owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. He was obviously in a tremendously good mood. “I want to sincerely thank everyone who comes here and supports our work,” Mr. Fernandez exclaimed. “We are on year twenty nine and going strong. We are really looking forward to our thirty year anniversary celebration in 2019.”
I also had the fortunate opportunity to speak to Michela English, past president and CEO of Fight for Children and current board member, who over a decade has been absolutely gracious to me.
Everyone at this sold-out black-tie fundraiser appeared to be having fun. Soon it was time to move to the dining room. I’ve described the appearance of this space so many times but it never fails to take my breath away. The monitors everywhere you look, all of the well-dressed men and women who prefer socializing over taking their seats, and the center stage that also serves as the forum for boxing matches is almost too much for the senses to handle. Here I found my friend Bret Baier, host of Special Report with Bret Baier on the Fox News Channel, who is also the chief political anchor for Fox. Mr. Baier was close personally to Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr during Mr. Robert’s lifetime. He was seated near Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States. Mr. Robert had been instrumental in arranging a $150 million grant from the UAE to Children’s National Medical Center. Standing next to us was Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd.
The meal that included a foot-long steak was excellent as always as were the Women’s Jr. Welterwight and USBA Jr. Welterweight championship bouts. The schedule included a moving singing of the National Anthem by Caleb Green and Bob McDonald, performances by the New Century Dance Company, a live auction, and dinner music by E3. During this period I sat for an extended period with Ward 7 Councilmember and former Mayor Vincent Gray. We discussed the future of Anacostia regarding public education and healthcare.
Rapper FLO RIDA was the headline entertainer. I had no idea who he was but that was not the case with the throngs of younger audience members. The cell phones came out excitedly from the guests, and in addition to providing a high-energy spectacle, it appears from experience that the singer excels at taking selfies with his fans from the dais.
In all the event went off as if it was a fine-tuned symphony lead by a perfectly synchronized conductor. Fight Night, since 1990, has raised for than $65 million for at-risk children.