Patriot Sporting Challenge: Honoring a Legacy

Garry Schnabel is passionate about what he does. And what he does, people are passionate about.

Schnabel, a Vietnam War Veteran, moved to Wood County in 2016.

He was approached by Chuck Roy—now Founding Director but then just a man with a concept and a dream—about potentially heading the organization along with a few other people. “I… said I think I can do that,” Schnabel (who is now the President and Executive Director of Patriot Sporting Challenge) said. “My call to duty has been to do this, and it’s because a lot of my friends never made it back from Vietnam. I was the lucky one…”

Patriot Sporting Challenge (whose main event is “the Lake Fork Challenge”) began in 2017 with a powerful mission. This all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organization supports what are called “Gold Star Families,” or the families of those veterans who have been severely disabled or fallen in battle.

In accordance with this view, Patriot Sporting Challenge’s website states that it has “accepted the mission to honor the sacrifices of our military veterans by helping to educate their legacies. These heroes have given their all, and their families have suffered an incredible loss. We are building for the future of our nation, paying it forward so that the dreams of our fallen or severely wounded heroes can become a reality.”

How does this honorable organization intend to accomplish this goal? By ensuring that the legacy of the veterans is honored in their children and the families they left behind by their sacrifice. Specifically, Patriot Sporting Challenge focuses on donating nearly 100% of its net proceeds to Folds of Honor, a national foundation that awards scholarships and educational support to the children and spouses of fallen or severely disabled veterans. These charities guarantee that the education of Gold Star Families is not dropped when suddenly a main provider of the family is no longer with them.

“Their children, and the hopes for their children, obviously… are gone if the father’s been killed, or the mother… there’s a lot of stress put on the spouse,” said Schnabel. “Things go by the wayside, and the kids’ education certainly goes by the wayside when that happens… the most important thing is, ‘what are we doing for the cause? Or for the legacies that have been left behind?’ Getting them an education…”

On the section of its website entitled “Call to Duty,” Patriot Sporting Challenge explains its powerful reasoning behind the mission: “There is no more noble cause than to provide those families left behind with the financial help and support needed to achieve their children’s educational goals. These children are our future. They are tomorrow’s heroes and the protectors of our freedoms that we all hold so very dearly. Together we can make this happen.”

Funds are raised for this amazing charity through their annual fundraiser, the “Lake Fork Challenge.” This all-day, multiple-location event, which will be held on Saturday, April 9, 2022, will feature many different types of activities for any kind of person. Patriot Sporting Challenge is not only a way to give and support this amazing cause, but it is also a fun day for everyone involved.

The event will begin early in the morning, when up to 50 four-person teams (32 of which are already made up) will split up into two-person partnerships and go out to compete in one of three categories: golfing and fishing, shooting and fishing, or shooting and golfing. Once scores in each category are tabulated for the people representing their respective teams, participants, along with their spouses or significant others, will gather for the “Celebration of Patriotism.”

Starting at 2:15 p.m., Patriot Sporting Challenge will be putting on a three-hour casino and gaming event held at the Civic Center in Sulphur Springs—a unique first for this volunteer organization! Following this is the Call to Duty announcement, wherein everyone will take their seats at purchased tables at the Civic Center and eat dinner, which will not be preset but which is actually a meal with choices. Local Wood County vendors make up several of those restaurants catering the dinner, and the Hopkins County high school/culinary school students will be in attendance to wait on guests.

Finishing out the celebration will be speeches from two speakers, including a Green Beret / retired Army Ranger / Special Forces veteran (among other accomplishments) and an author / international speaker / Gold Star scholarship recipient whose husband died in the line of duty. The event will end with a concert by country singer, Cooper Wade.

There are more ways than just the obvious sending in of donations that people can show their support for this charity. In fact, there are many ways that interested parties can help, beginning with the formation / registration of a team to participate in the morning’s competitions, including such opportunities as individual sponsorships for various causes (which do come with benefits), and reaching even to things such as providing products for an online auction. Anyone who is interested in helping has a place at Patriot Sporting Challenge. Those who find themselves with a lack of financial resources but with a stronger supply of time can also volunteer to be a committee helper.

This honorable organization has far and exceeded what many thought possible. In fact, in December of 2021, Patriot Sporting Challenge was invited to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, at which they were honored to present Folds of Honor with a check for $300,000 out on the field. The contribution was met with a standing ovation from the audience of mostly veterans.

While this money is specifically earmarked for only those in Wood County, according to Schnabel, most or all of Patriot Sporting Challenge’s funding does stay within the State of Texas. Regardless of where it ends up, however, the funding itself has been a life-changing event to several families, as Lisa Hallett, a mother of three whose husband died while deployed overseas, said, “Folds of Honor has helped take some of the anxiety of parenting when it comes to academics off of the plate. Because they’re saying ‘I’ve got your back, Lisa. I’m gonna help you provide for your children, so that even though they don’t have their dad, they’re gonna have an academic foundation that’s gonna set them up for success.’”

The list of grateful, awed whispers goes on.

“Because of Folds of Honor, I got to graduate and show my children that there is no limit to what they can do.”

“Because of Folds of Honor, personally I feel relief, I feel free of a burden that I wasn’t able to overcome myself.”

“Because of Folds of Honor, my kids can live a dream that I wasn’t sure was possible, and now I know it is for sure.”

Even more than their amazing efforts in supporting Gold Star Children and supporting local businesspeople in the Wood County communities, Patriot Sporting Challenge also boosts tourism to Wood County by attracting interested parties to one of the county’s most bountiful and beautiful lakes, Lake Fork itself. Visitors are also able to experience the Links at Land’s End, a fantastic golf course neighborhood on the shores of Lake Fork, among other beautiful neighborhoods in the area.

“The nice thing about Wood County is that you’re out of the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan areas, and it’s gotten bad [out there],” said Schnabel. “I feel so safe here, families feel safe here, it’s got wonderful people, it’s got… a wonderful place to sit back and enjoy and see the stars at night, and enjoy all the [pleasantries] of Northeast Texas…There’s a lot that Wood County can offer people to come here, and I think there’s more coming.”

Although their goal of “showing off” the amazing qualities of Wood County is secondary, it is still something that the directors of the charity (as locals themselves) are quite proud of. “These [bigger-city] people are finding [that] the good life is out here,” Schnabel said. “I think more people, because of what we do for our cause, have come to realize that this is a pretty nice part of the country.”

Schnabel is proud of Wood County. To him, it’s an amazing place to live, an amazing place to visit, an amazing place to relax and get away. He’s proud to be helping the children of Texas’ veterans. And he’s proud to be making a change.

“Wood County should be proud of what it has, and I think it can be more proud of what it’s going to be,” he says.

Anyone interested in getting involved with this amazing charity or in finding more information can do so by visiting PatriotSportingChallenge.org.