Charlotte donates, tailgates for Zach

Before he died of cancer in 2005, 17-year-old Zach Ramsey started a fund to raise money for families with cancer-stricken children. He challenged his family to keep it going.

Sunday, the foundation had grown to $150,000 and stood to get $30,000 more after the first “Give Back with Zach” tailgate party during the Panthers game.

The organizers, led by Zach's parents, Jim and Mary Louise Ramsey, sold $50 tickets to the tailgate at Fifty-1 Sports Bar in south Charlotte. They quickly sold out.

Most of the 250 tailgaters came not so much to watch football or even to support a good cause.

They came to honor Zach Ramsey.

“Zach was a big-hearted kid and got close to people,” Jim Ramsey said. “He grew up fast and developed a real sense of what life was all about and what was important – even though he knew it would be short.

“He'd be delighted that all these people came here for him and his fund.”

Zach was a sophomore at Myers Park High when he was diagnosed in 2002. During treatments at Presbyterian Hospital's Blume Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic, he saw the burden medical expenses placed on families and wanted to help.

One night, while he and his father lay on his bed, Zach asked how much his treatment was costing the family.

“He said, ‘I know we can pay for it, but what about families who can't?'” Jim Ramsey recalled.

That's when he launched the Zach Ramsey Children's Cancer Fund, providing the first $1,000 he'd earned working at a Charlotte Chick Fil-A. Fifty-1's owners donated the space Sunday and the staff donated their time. Former Panthers Kevin Donnalley, Jeff Mitchell and Wesley Walls were expected. Donnalley got Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers to sign jerseys for door prizes.

The fund's directors hope to raise $2 million, from which 5 percent would be taken yearly to pay out-of-pocket expenses for the 30 to 40 families of cancer patients at Blume.

“I don't care if it takes 20 years,” Jim Ramsey said, “we'll get there.”