Now in its fifth year, Go Long for Luke was started by Sophie Greenfield and Cole and Jesse Faller six years ago in New York. Luke Greenfield is Sophie’s brother, who is autistic, and the flag football event was created to raise money and awareness for autism.
“I wanted people to realize that even though Luke has autism, he’s still normal,” Sophie said. “When I was in third grade some of our friends were kind of overwhelmed by it, and I wanted to show them that even though he’s nonverbal and doesn’t speak that much, he’s still my best friend, and if you want me as a friend you have Luke too.”
The event kept growing in New York, from around 20 players in the first year to 120 in the third year. Participants ranged from ages 6 to 19 and played in a local park.
When the Greenfields moved to Atlanta, the event took a year off and was reborn last year at Chastain Park, and while they were still new to Atlanta, the fundraiser was too important to forget.
“We were kind of nervous and hesitant, but we would never give up Go Long for Luke,” said mom Sandi Greenfield.
This year, the event was hosted Nov. 3 at The Weber School, where Sophie is a freshman, and 90 players between ages 6 and 18 participated in the flag football.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from Weber and Weber’s families and community,” Sandi said.
And despite a rainy week leading up to game day, the sun shined on Sunday for the annual event, as teams made up of various ages took to the field and onlookers cheered from the sidelines. The benefit isn’t only fun for those donning the flags, as there are also attractions for those a little older than 19.
“We had a really fabulous auction with restaurants throughout Atlanta’s metro area, and sports tickets and memorabilia,” Sandi said. “We had music by D.J. Rhythm and face painting for the younger kids. We also had Keith’s Kosher BBQ truck, so there really is something for everyone.”
As for what has changed since the first years of the event, Sophie explained that awareness of autism has increased.
“A lot more people seem to understand what autism is, and there are more resources that are available,” she said. “And everyone I know realizes that Luke is a big teddy bear, that he’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.”
At press time, this year’s proceeds reached almost $20,000, with more donations still trickling in.