Smoltz, Johnson paddle off for charity

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia men’s basketball coach Mark Fox will host the third annual Suits and Sneakers Gala on Saturday -- with the American Cancer Society benefit featuring a new sideshow this year.

Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Brad Johnson -- also the brother-in-law of Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt -- will square off in a pingpong challenge where fans can support the player of their choice with donations to Team Smoltz or Team Johnson.

“[Richt] thought it would be a neat way to bring attention to the event,” Fox said. “Hopefully people will donate money to their favorite guy and then the winner gets all the money in his name toward the cause. So that’s an interesting, fun twist this year. Those guys have been gracious to do it. They’re both extremely competitive, so that will be fun.”

Don’t doubt for a second that they will play to win. When asked about Johnson’s pingpong skills, Richt produced a cell phone video featuring his brother-in-law practicing at home with a machine rapidly firing pingpong balls across the table for him to return.

“Believe me, this is big. You don’t understand how big this game is,” Richt cracked. “It’s huge.”

The Suits and Sneakers Gala is an offshoot of the national Coaches vs. Cancer program, in which Fox participated while he was head coach at Nevada. He and his wife Cindy launched the Suits and Sneakers Gala upon arrival in Athens, and the event has already become a successful fundraiser.

The event raised more than $85,000 last year and organizers hope to top the $100,000 mark this year with approximately 600 guests expected. Fox tweeted on Monday afternoon that a few $150 tickets are still available for the main event at Stegeman Coliseum, which will also feature a silent auction, games, meet and greet with the special guests and a “Best in Shoe” contest for the guest with the best-decorated sneaker.

Dozens of sports-, travel- and food-related items such as Final Four tickets and a dinner prepared by noted Athens chef Hugh Acheson are available at the auction.

And all of the money from the event will go toward treatment and research of a disease that has touched the families of nearly everyone involved. That, Fox said, is a major reason why the annual event has been so well-received.

“You don’t have to look far,” Fox said. “In your family or in your circle of friends, everyone’s had it. It’s nasty stuff and it’s even nastier when you see it in a child, so we’ve got to hopefully make some headway.”

For more information on tickets, donations and the Smoltz-Johnson pingpong challenge, visit the Suits and Sneakers official site.