By Rob Schabert, TTU Sports Information Director
and Brandon Goodwin, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Heath Dwenger's former teammates and college friends are determined he won't be forgotten. Using a creative, unique idea for a worldwide fundraising effort, the idea received more than $23,000 toward a scholarship endowment in Dwenger's memory.
Dwenger, 36, passed away in early May following a brief fight against leukemia.
"The idea was highly unusual, but obviously extremely effective," said Kevin Bostian, TTU Associate Athletic Director for Development. "It had followers and donors from around the world."
Brian Brooks and fellow Tech alum Jud Chapman, along with his wife, Tech tennis alum Marieta Valkova, organized a live video game-a-thon to raise money for the endowment. The prospects were good for a successful venture, but since it was such a unique fundraising plan, there was no guarantee what level of response it would generate.
A couple of years ago, Chapman began a side business – a YouTube channel under his gaming name "Generikb" dedicated to video gaming (www.youtube.com/generikb). He began recording himself playing video games and narrating. It became much more than just video gaming. He became an online reality show celebrity of sorts. He grew his channel from zero to its present 300,000 subscribers who watch his videos on a daily basis with over 34 million video views to date.
Chapman did well enough with it, that he quit corporate life and now does this full-time. He has travelled to Europe and around the States, making appearances at video game conferences, filling rooms with hundreds of fans. Most important to the endowment, Chapman had taken part in online charity events with other YouTube entities over the last two years that have raised thousands of dollars.
Brooks remembered a conversation he had with Chapman about his success, and approached him with the idea of doing something similar for Heath. Chapman immediately said yes and the pair devised a strategy to make it happen.
On June 2, Chapman entertained viewers for 14 hours by narrating the video game "Minecraft" while he played. Throughout the live game-a-thon, Chapman talked about Dwenger and the purpose for the event, and viewers were encouraged to donate to the endowment. The initial goal was $10,000, but the event was much more popular than they expected. Initially set for 12 hours, Jud made a deal with the viewers to give them two more hours of the game-a-thon if they raised more than $20,000. More than $9,000 was raised within the first three hours of the event.
"The most touching, unplanned moment for me was the donation that pushed us past the $10,000 mark," Brooks recalls. "We were at $9,950 or so, and a donation came through from Heath's brother, Jarrod, that pushed us past $10,000. It couldn't have been timed any better."
Donations came from all over the world – Finland, Sweden, Australia, the UK. In all, donations to Dwenger's Endowment came from more than 30 countries worldwide.
"Jud said if they could hit $20,000 by 8 p.m., he would be willing to extend the event two more hours," Brooks explained. "Donations started coming in, but it looked like we might not hit the goal. He once again threw out a challenge, saying if one viewer would give $500, he would get (his wife) Marieta on camera to play a video game. Within 10 minutes, the donation came through from a fan in the UK, and we were officially past the $20,000 mark. Throughout the day, there were never less than 5,000 fans watching the live stream at any given time."
Brooks and Chapman have discussed making it an annual event toward continuing support of the endowment. Donations can also be made to the Heath J. Dwenger Tennis Scholarship Endowment by contacting Bostian at (931) 372-3929 or via email at KBostian@tntech.edu. You can also donate online via PayPal or credit card at http://www.tntech.edu/advancementservices/heath-dwenger/.
As of June 9, 2013, the endowment has received more than $37,000. The endowment founders, Brooks and Tech tennis alum Volkan Salar, say they have been thrilled with the outpouring of support to the endowment.
"We'd like to thank everyone that has already donated and invite others to participate," Brooks said. "Our goal is to continue growing the endowment in the coming years in honor of our friend and teammate."
Dwenger played on the Golden Eagle tennis team from 1997 to 2000, and was part of coach Randy Smith's 1999 OVC Championship squad. He received the inaugural Johnny Donnelly Maverick Award, recognizing the "fight" in a player and his or her willingness to battle through obstacles, along with leadership and determination.
He joined the team in 1996-97 as a walk-on from Celina, Ohio, and in four seasons he posted 27 wins in singles play and 23 in doubles, giving him 50 career combined victories. His best year came in 1997-98, as a sophomore, when he was 11-4 in singles while filling the No. 6 spot in the lineup. As a senior, he combined with four different doubles partners for a combined 10-8 record. Much of his success that year came when he was teamed with Daniel Chavarria from Bolivia, with a 7-4 doubles mark.
By the time he entered his senior season, the bio in the team's media guide said: Heath is a great motivational member of the squad...his game has improved tremendously in his three previous seasons...continued to show constant improvement during the '99 fall season...pushing for a spot in the lower portion of the lineup...should help provide depth in doubles play...working to become more consistent on his forehand...won the inaugural Johnny Donnelly Maverick Award last season for his dedication and overall efforts and leadership.
Heath was the son of James and Marilyn Dwenger. He earned his degree in mechanical engineering in December, 2000.