Thanking Some A-Plus Teachers

Attention, class. Name the common theme at Thursday's Spotlight Awards for Teachers Making a Difference. Okay, we'll give you a hint: If it wasn't for a great teacher, some of Hollywood's famous faces may have been on "America's Most Wanted." Luckily for Steve Buscemi, Joe Pantoliano and Antwone Fisher, they're not criminals, they just play them (or write them) on TV.

"When you meet the first person that makes you believe that you can do what you never thought you could do . . . it makes an impact," Fisher said of elementary school teacher Brenda Profit. Profit never gave up on the severely dyslexic Fisher back in Cleveland, and the writer thanked her by honoring her at the annual awards, attended by 300 public school teachers at the Hilton Washington.

Buscemi told the crowd that he'd been on the wrong track before meeting Carl Riccobono. "Besides giving me my first break, he really made me feel smart," he said of his fourth-grade teacher. Riccobono cast the class clown as the Cowardly Lion in a school production of "The Wizard of Oz," which Buscemi marks as the beginning of his successful acting career.

Teacher's pets Phylicia Rashad and pundit Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. honored the important educators in their lives. Rashad gave kudos to husband-and-wife teaching team James and Vivian Harrison, two of her early musical mentors. O'Donnell recognized his daughter's fifth-grade teacher, Doug Stoll, who gave up a career in showbiz for the classroom.

"I like to tell people I traded in one group of babies for another group of babies," he joked.

To Bring the Big Men, Woo Their Ladies

For 15 years former Redskin Bobby Mitchell has coaxed Hall of Famers from around the country to his benefit golf tournament, and this past weekend's featured a record 43 players, including Sonny Jurgensen, Carl Eller, Sam Huff, Gale Sayers, Charley Taylor, Oscar Robertson, Gino Marchetti, Bill Russell and John Riggins. The secret behind Mitchell's success is not just the camaraderie, the golf or even the cause (the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society). The secret is wooing the women. "You can get players to come one, two, maybe three years," said Mitchell. "But to get this consistency year after year you've got to get the wives." Star athletes get plenty of attention all their lives, but Mitchell's better half, Gwen, made sure the spouses get the star treatment, too: ladies' luncheon, spa treatments and gift baskets filled with lotions, creams and other girl-friendly goodies. "You've gotta excite the women," said gala co-chair Tammy Darvish. "How many roast beef dinners do they want to sit through? What woman wants another golf shirt?"

This year's gala at Lansdowne Resort raised a record $680,000 for children with leukemia, among them 9-year-old Paul Fretitta, who was honored as Saturday's "patient hero." The players who donate their time have raised $4 million since the tournament began. "It's the only one I do -- because of Bobby Mitchell," said Jurgensen, who has attended every one of the annual dinners. "You could do one of these a week. This is worth doing."

For the Love of a Friend Indeed

Damu Smith is a well-loved man. The activist drew a sellout crowd Saturday night to Howard University's Cramton Auditorium, where a small army of his close friends, including actor Danny Glover, environmental activist Emelda West and poet Suheir Hammad, paid tribute in a two-hour program of poetry, song, dance and storytelling. The evening was created to raise funds for Smith's fight against Stage 4 colon cancer. "Many cultural greats are here to honor Damu," said Glover. "This is an evening of tribute for our friend, our brother and our hero."

With Laura Thomas