Brick Haley returns home for golf benefit

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By Chris McCarthy/Editor

Judging from the heavy turnout, the Brick Road to Success benefit golf tournament was a resounding success on June 24 at Twin Bridges Golf Course.
Haley, a 1984 Emma Sansom High School graduate, was humbled by the sheer number of people who braved the near triple digit temperatures to participate in the third annual event that benefits autism research and awareness.
“[The tournament] has grown by leaps and bounds every year, and it means the world to me and to my family, no question about it,” said Haley, the defensive line coach for the University of Texas football team. “It’s really amazing to come back home and actually see all the people that I’ve been in contact with long-distance. It’s special because it’s home.
“Just about everyone in this room (in the Twin Bridges clubhouse and dining room) or who played in the tournament are people who’ve touched my life in a positive way. It’s been like a homecoming every year we’ve done this, and we’re very blessed to have such a huge amount of support.”
Proceeds from the tournament go towards Autism Speaks, a leading autism science and advocacy organization. According to www.autismspeaks.org, the organization was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, pre-vention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
Haley’s 16-year old son A.J. has autism. When A.J. was diagnosed with the disorder several years ago, Haley and his wife Tina decided to shift their foundation’s focus from assisting underprivileged youths to helping autistic children.
“It’s been the greatest thing, not just for my son but for me and Tina,” said Haley. “Tina’s from North Carolina, but she’s embraced the City of Gadsden like it’s her hometown.”
Haley’s whose mom Artie still lives in Gadsden, makes it back to the area about three times a year.
Among Haley’s teammates on the Rebels were future SEC players Gene Jelks and Freddy Weygand, whom Haley keeps in touch on a regular basis.

“It was awesome just to be on the same field with those guys, as well as Tim Brown, Mitchell and Michael Brewster and Jeff (Snooky) Burgess,” said Haley, a linebacker for the Rebels who attended Alabama A&M on a football scholarship. He was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
Haley points to Buster Gross, his football coach at Emma Sansom, as a major influence on his life.
“Coach Gross has been a mentor and a father figure to me. He really helped me become the man I am today.”
Although his local alma mater ceased to exist when Emma Sansom, Gadsden and Litchfield high schools consolidated to form Gadsden City in 2006, Haley still has a strong bond to the school and its athletic programs.
“I still have teachers and coaches there who were at Emma Sansom,” he said. “It’s a little different because it’s not my high school, but it’s still Gadsden and I’m very proud of where I came from. It’s been fun to watch [the football team] progress, and I always cheer for them during the season and get online every Saturday morning to see how they did the night before.”
Haley noted that there’s still much work to be done in regard to raising awareness on autism and the importance of children being tested for the condition.
“We want to continue to grow and get the word out about. There still a lot of parents out there who don’t know or don’t understand what they’re facing, and Tina and I were one of those parents at one point in time.
“We’re excited about helping other moms and dads so they can be successful in raising their kids to their full potential and giving them the fullest life that they possibly can have. I always tell people that life is not about what you have; it’s about who you share it with.”

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