By Jana Mackin
While the extended family of Motts Channel Seafood will be remembering and honoring the life of a beloved former employee this weekend, they will also be thinking about how they were close to losing another member of the family nearly a year ago.
With the second annual Mandie Phillips Memorial Fishing Tournament this weekend, the Wrightsville Beach fish market will again raise money for a local student scholarship to Appalachian State University. But this year’s tournament will also be raising money for the Cape Fear Chapter of the American Heart Association, after Motts Channel Seafood owner Gene Long nearly died of a heart attack just a week after last year’s inaugural tournament.
“He’s a miracle. He’s a walking miracle thanks to the Herculean efforts of the Wrightsville first responders and the medical staff at New Hanover Regional Medical Center,” said Alison Long, Gene’s wife and co-owner of Motts, who said 10 percent of the proceeds of this year’s tournament would go to the heart association.
And whether you’re a shore hugger or deep-water diva, the second holding of the local fishing tournament offers a chance for anglers to reel in bragging rights and “hook a scholarship” in memory of the former employee, who died in a car accident a few days before Christmas 2014. The endeared employee, who had worked at the shop for five years, was so loved by customers that many attended her funeral, Alison Long said.
To honor her memory, Gene and Alison Long launched the tournament last year, which was held at Motts Channel Seafood. The event features an award dinner and party after the tournament.
“It was a blast last year,” said Nikki Bartle, retail manager at Motts Seafood and Mandie’s friend. “She would have loved this event. She would have been blown away. She would be awed.”
Last year, about 21 boats and 360 people attended. This year, organizers are hoping for about 500 people to attend. Sponsors, donors and volunteers contributed about $45,000 in gross proceeds that helped fund the initial endowment of $25,000 to create a lasting legacy for Mandie and ongoing Appalachian State scholarship opportunities for local students. This year’s fundraiser’s goal is to award multiple scholarships contingent upon monies raised and endowment contribution.
The first Mandie Phillips Memorial Scholarship of $5,000 was awarded to Mary Connelly Wade, an E.A. Laney High School graduate now a freshman at Mandie’s alma matter, Appalachian State University.
“It’s amazing. It allowed me to go to college and took the stress off of coming here,” said Wade, 18. “I intend to major in psychology with an emphasis in human service in the mental health field. That’s my dream.”
For Allie, Mandie’s twin sister, this fishing scholarship tournament is the stuff of dreams as it realizes hope from an epic tragedy and carries on Mandie’s miracle.
“The whole tournament is a testament to her legacy,” said Allie, 24, a project specialist for Mental and Public Health with South East Area Health Education Center. “I have dreams about me telling her about the tournament. She just cries, she’s just so happy.”