Palmetto High School senior Max Lehman runs a charity poker tournament that raises money to fix wheelchairs for kids whose families can’t afford to foot the bill.
The poker tournament was started years ago by Palmetto graduate Michael Gray who passed it on to Jared Heller. Heller designated Brian Morrison and Lehman as the next organizers. They will pass it on to younger Palmetto students as well.
The tournament generally takes place in February at Bet Shira. The last tournament raised $5,000. While Lehman hasn’t met the children who receive the wheelchair benefits, they are kept updated by Advocacy Network on Disabilities on where their money goes.
“There was a backstory of a kid who the money went to and how his life changed over the last few months,” Lehman says. “He was able to do more stuff. He was able to participate in more events and not be stuck in the house. He’s more independent.”
The wheelchair bound boy no longer had to rely on his family member to take him everywhere because now he could go on his own.
“A lot of the money goes to low income kids whose wheelchairs need repair,” he says.
Why is he putting in all the time and energy on the tournament? Lehman says he’s doing it for the kids. Low income families can’t repair the wheelchairs.
“Repairs can run from $100 to $1,000 and sometimes even more,” he says. “Nowadays with the new technology they are $2-$3,000.”
Although the event takes place in February, planning and fundraising begins right after Thanksgiving.
“We fundraise by going around to Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay asking for donations,” he says. “They give either gift cards or checks.”
The last tournament drew more than 100 participants. The top finisher wins a television. But others can win as well. Gift cards are raffled between rounds. When he was younger, Lehman participated in the tournament even though he didn’t play regularly. He says the winner is usually an adult and there’s usually a new winner every year.
Working with kids is important to him so he’s coaching a team in the Beth Am league with a friend.
“This is the first time I’ve done it independently with a friend,” he says. “I’ve helped my dad coach or a friend coach, but this is the first time it’s my team.”
Lehman has played on the Palmetto tennis team since sophomore year. He says they have a good team and he hopes to play matches this school year. Last year, the team lost in the first round of the state championship.
He’s played since he was three but he started taking it seriously at the end of his freshman year. He took private lessons and attended clinics and even played in tournaments but six Advance Placement courses made it tough to continue tournament play.
Lehman is also a member of Palmetto’s Jewish Student Union. His long term goal is to become a sports agent.
“It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about helping these kids develop into better players and me becoming a better person and leader,” he says. “It’s really growing as a person as a whole.”
He plans to major in business – either finance or accounting and then go on to law school.
His first choice for college is the University of Florida. He’s also looking at the University of Maryland, Richmond, Wake Forest and the University of Texas.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld