Diamond Rio and Friends Tee Off for Open Airways

“Unbelievable” is the title of one of Diamond Rio’s most popular hits, but fans of the harmony-driven group know the word also describes the band’s commitment to raising money for the Middle Tennessee chapter of the American Lung Association (ALA).

To that end, Diamond Rio, their families and friends hosted their annual celebrity golf tournament, “The Rio @ Hermitage,” Monday and Tuesday (Sept. 11-12) at the Hermitage Golf Course in the Nashville suburb of Old Hickory, Tenn.

In eight years, Diamond Rio’s tournament has raised almost $400,000, says Jeff Stevenson, President of the Board of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of ALA. “The money raised is used specifically for kids here in Tennessee,” he said Tuesday. “The funds go toward the Open Airways for Schools program, which educates children and their parents about asthma management.”

Diamond Rio lead singer Marty Roe and his wife, Robin, recognize the importance of the Open Airways program. “When a child suffers from asthma,” Roe says, “families often live on the edge of disaster. For too many children and their families, it’s not just a disease, it’s a nightmare.”

“Through this program,” Robin adds, “the kids learn basic asthma management right in their schools. This year, the program will continue in schools in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and other communities across the state. The program also funds training programs for teachers and school nurses so they can better help the children.”

This is the ninth annual golf tournament sponsored by Diamond Rio; drummer Brian Prout recalls that the first event “started off in conjunction with our former bus driver, Glen Tadlock, to benefit retired bus drivers. Shortly after that first event, Glen was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He’s passed on now, but the last time I saw him was right here at the tournament, carrying around an oxygen tank.”

Prout and the other Diamond Rio members are amazed at how the tournament has grown. “When we started,” he says, “it was mostly family and a few friends. We played a round of golf, had our hot dogs and beer and that was it!”

While the menu has improved, so has the roster of big-hearted celebrities willing to support the event. Other participants this year included ex-pro basketball player Charles Davis, comedians Cledus T. Judd and Henry Cho, Opry stars Jimmy C. Newman and Ray Pillow, Restless Heart vocalist Larry Stewart, soap opera star Tom Wiggin from As the World Turns, professional golfer Kim Williams and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MGs.

To close out the day, Diamond Rio hosted a dinner with entertainment for golfers, volunteers and event sponsors. Appearing were musical/comedy duet Williams and Ree, Cho and Cledus T. Judd. The event’s hosts concluded the entertainment with a 45-minute set that featured hit songs such as “Bubba Hyde,” “Mirror, Mirror” and “You’re Gone.” A silent auction took place nearby, where ALA supporters could bid on items ranging from Swiss watches to vacation packages to uncut gems. All proceeds benefited the ALA.

Prout’s fiancĂ©e, U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, did not golf but shared her first-hand experience with asthma. “When I was a child I had it pretty severely,” she says, “and we didn’t have the medication that we do now.”

The California congresswoman supports legislation to benefit the ALA. “The biggest deal in the past few years has been tobacco legislation and tobacco settlements,” she says. Bono campaigned with director Rob Reiner in support of a 75-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, with revenues going to early childhood development programs.

“It’s really sweet that [Diamond Rio’s] been involved with an issue that’s really important to me,” Bono said, “and that they were involved before Brian and I ever met.”