Photo: Brick Road to Success golf tournament and fundraiser winners accept a first-place plaque on July 8. Pictured, from left: Brick Road to Success Founder Brick Haley; winning golfers Steven Driggers, Freeman Fite and Jackson King. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
Brick Road to Success hosted its 2022 golf tournament on Friday, July 8.
Participants were invited to compete in the tournament and attend a lunch afterward, which included awards presentations, a raffle and a silent auction to benefit Brick Road to Success.
Founder Brick Haley said he was inspired by his son AJ to start the organization in 2008.
Haley is a 1984 graduate of Emma Sansom High School. He is currently the defensive line coach for the University of Minnesota and has previously coached for the University of Missouri, Louisiana State, Baylor, Clemson, Houston, Troy State, Austin Peay, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and the NFL Chicago Bears.
“It’s just something that we felt like we needed for our son, and we also wanted to be able to bring awareness and give other people an opportunity to notice what we were able to catch early in the detection of him being on the spectrum,” Haley said. “I think it’s important that the world realizes it and you continue to grow the awareness for autism.”
Haley explained that knowing his autistic son’s needs and strengths has been important.
“The environment that [AJ] is going to be in on a daily basis is what has to be more functional for him,” he said.
AJ’s room, for example, would be set up the exact same way when the family moved houses. Haley said his son thrives in situations that require attention to detail. AJ is “very meticulous,” he said, able to work consistently and thoroughly in “whatever task you give [him].”
According to Haley, Autism Speaks is the main beneficiary of Brick Road to Success.
“The ideas and things that they gave us and the research we did on them said that [Autism Speaks] was very credible,” Haley said. “It’s been really good for us and good for them. We have not branched out any right now, just kind of keeping it close-knit, a little bit at a time.”
Doing “a little bit at a time” was Haley’s focus for Brick Road to Success in light of decreased fundraising due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also applied for his own family.
The Haley family is currently moving houses, he said, along with his coaching job keeping him busy. His youngest son is in the process of taking online cla-sses and looking for a college.
“We’re working to see where we go with (our fundraising), but whatever it is, it’s going to be more than if we had done nothing,” he said. “So that’s where we want to be.”
The golf tournament used to be held annually, but the event was put on hold in 2020 when the pandemic began. The July 8 tournament was the first one held in three years, and Haley said it could potentially be the last.
“This could be the finale,” Haley said. “We have not made up our mind yet, but that’s exactly what we want to do. There’s been a lot of conversation about it just because, for me, getting out and raising money is kind of tough because football season now is like year-round, so you continue to do it 12 months a year.”
The fundraiser, which was routinely held each June, moved to July this year because of offseason football scheduling complications.
The tournament’s winning team was comprised of Jackson King, Freeman Fite and Steven Driggers. Among a few other recognized individuals, the team received a plaque bearing the Brick Road to Success logo.
Silent auction items included signed jerseys and football helmets, many from Haley’s former players.
“This year was a really good year for us because I think I’ve had six or seven of my ex-players that I coached in college that have come to be a part of [the event], which is awesome,” Haley said. “It means a lot. It tells me that somewhere down the road, we did something right, for them to come back and spend time with their old coach.”
In an earlier interview with The Messenger, Haley fondly remembered his own high school football days at Emma Sansom, where he played with future SEC players Gene Jelks and Freddy Weygand.
“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,” he said.
Haley recollected being coached on his own road to success by Buster Gross, Emma Sansom High School’s football coach during his time there.
“Coach Gross has been a mentor and a father figure to me,” Haley said. “He really helped me become the man I am today.”