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Vera Bradley Classic starts today

Occasionally, Catherine Hill will be out of town and recognize a Vera Bradley bag that was made for participants of the Vera Bradley Classic in a specific year.

That makes for a fun moment for Hill, the director of the Vera Bradley Foundation, because the person carrying that bag probably helped support the fight against breast cancer by participating in the Classic, which is one of Fort Wayne’s most beloved, and most important, charity events.

“When you see someone carrying one of those bags, I know they’ve played in the Classic and can tell what year it was,” Hill said. “I’ve been out of town, seen one and known that it was a 2008 participant bag. I may walk up to them and say something. It’s fun for me to say, ‘Oh, did you play in the Vera Bradley Classic?’ It takes them by surprise.”

Tonight, the 21st Classic will start with tennis events at Wildwood Racquet Club, and they will run through Saturday night. On Monday, there will be an 18-hole golf tournament at Sycamore Hills Golf Club and nine-hole tournaments at Pine Valley Country Club.

Vera Bradley has a full field of participants this year – 144 tennis players and 428 golfers.

Last year, $1,047,235 was raised through the Classic to support breast cancer research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, a nationally ranked cancer center.

That put the total money raised in the history of the Classic at nearly $11 million.

“We’re ready and excited about another fantastic classic weekend,” Hill said. “We continue to enjoy incredible enthusiasm and support from all our golfers, tennis players and sponsors.”

The Classic was founded by Patricia Miller and Barbara Baekgaard after a mutual friend died from breast cancer.

While the Classic began with only golf events, this is the 20th anniversary of the incorporation of tennis, so organizers are making sure to have on hand some of their favorite tennis professionals for an exhibition Saturday night.

The pros will include Mike Andrews, Lovelle Crenshaw, Vince Williams, Mike Insko, Jay Smithley, Michael Parker, Scott Dredge, Matthew Schrader, Josh Rifkin and Eric Hamlin.

“We have reached back and invited those tennis pros who were there in the beginning. They are favorites of people who have played at Wildwood, and it will be fun for those who have supported us through the years,” Hill said.