Tebow packs 'em in
Tebowmania hit Bakersfield on Tuesday night, and the result was a resounding success for Hoffmann Hospice.
Kern County's non-profit hospice service held its annual Voices of Inspiration fundraiser at the Icardo Center, with Tebow, the much-ballyhooed New York Jets quarterback, serving as guest speaker.
A fundraiser that last year drew about 500 and raised $160,000 nearly tripled those numbers on Tuesday: 1,380 attended and nearly half a million dollars was raised. That included $81,500 through a live auction before and after Tebow spoke -- a painting of Tebow that was done live on stage and then signed by the QB went for $32,000.
"It's about three times as big as the ones we've had in the past," said Tom Hoffmann, who founded the hospice in 1995 with his wife Beth. "We could have sold more tickets if we had a bigger venue. And that auction, that was a total surprise."
The money raised will go to patient care and staff. Much of the credit goes to Tebow, a national-championship quarterback at Florida who moved on to the Denver Broncos. He led them to a first-round playoff victory last fall before he was traded to the Jets.
That development actually inconvenienced Hoffmann Hospice, because a Jets minicamp interfered with the original April date of Voices of Inspiration. Still, Tom Hoffmann said he had to turn away people who wanted tickets, even after his organization moved the event from its standard hotel ballroom to the Icardo Center.
"We went to our sponsors, our sponsors all said, 'Yes, put me down,' and all of a sudden we had three times as many," Hoffmann said. "They all wanted a part of Tim Tebow."
The best part for the hospice? It landed Tebow when he was a Broncos backup and Denver was 1-4. Immediately afterwards, the Broncos named him their starter, and he led the team to six straight wins and the playoffs. All the while, the NFL and the nation became enamored with his passionate play and very open Christianity.
"We had three speakers we were considering, and we narrowed it to Tim Tebow," Hoffmann said. "He verbally said yes, and then he won six straight games. And from that point on, it became this huge demand. It was just being in the right place at the right time."
In a question-and-answer session with former NFL star Chris Spielman, who moderated, Tebow talked about football, faith and fame.
"The world looks at me as a football player who happens to be a Christian," Tebow told the crowd. "But I look at myself as a Christian who happens to play football."
It's safe to say there were some in the crowd for both reasons. Tebow took photos with VIPs before the event began, and while some walked away starry-eyed, looking at cell-phone pictures and generally swooning over Tebow's boyish good looks, others said they're fans for deeper reasons.
"I told him I appreciated his testimony," Tim Kounter said. "He doesn't lose his message, no matter what crowd he's in."
Angela Boyd wore a black Jets shirt that read "TEBOW KNOWS." Kounter described her as Tebow's No. 1 fan.
"It was absolutely amazing," Boyd said. "He's very inspiring, and he's very much genuine."
Cole, Jess and Ryder Wattenbarger, ages 11, 9 and 6, all wore Jets jerseys and said Tebow was a role model.
"He was bigger and buffer than I thought," Jess Wattenbarger said. "It's pretty cool meeting him. He's a really good quarterback."
"He's tall and nice and he tackles good!" Ryder said.
Later, Tebow relayed a story of how he began to write Bible verses on his eye-black stickers before games -- a gesture that he was told led 94 million people to Google searching for John 3:16 during the 2008 national championship game -- and the impact of his sudden stardom.
"God can use something so small and turn it into something where we have no clue what's going on or how big it can get," Tebow said.
Same goes for Hoffmann Hospice, which had the sort of fundraiser that can sustain and grow its service.
"It's great to score touchdowns and have game-winning drives, but at the end of the day, that's just a game," Tebow said. "What Tom and Beth (Hoffmann) are doing, that's having an impact."
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer Bakersfield.com