Akron Ohio News – First Tee perfecting drives through values program

11/8/2018 – South Side Leader

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By Maria Lindsay

The First Tee of Greater Akron is a program that uses golf to instill nine core values in youth. Pictured above is a younger group on the Mud Run Golf Course in Akron.

Instructors are shown celebrating with a young golfer after a successful game.
Photos courtesy of The First Tee of Greater Akron

GREATER AKRON — The First Tee of Greater Akron has been taking a swing at helping youth make positive and healthy choices by instilling nine core values through the game of golf for 20 years.

The organization — led by Office Manager Germaine Wilson, Program Director and Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) Professional Jimmy Beers and facility Manager and PGA Professional Dirk Hartman — is part of the national The First Tee, formed by representatives from the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the Masters Tournament, the PGA, the PGA Tour and the U.S. Golf Association in 1997 as a way to bring an affordable junior golf program to youth and communities that did not have them, according to program officials. Officials added they discovered blending the rules of the game with life and leadership skills helped participants also learn important values.

According to Wilson, the Akron chapter was founded in 1998 with the mission to positively impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character and promote healthy choices through nine core values — honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment — all of which are incorporated into the game of golf.

Officials explained how some of these values become part of the game: Golf is unique in that a player regularly calls penalties on themselves and reports their own score, which requires honesty; integrity is important because golf is a game of etiquette and composure, and players are responsible for their own actions even when no one is looking; and courtesy is taught through considerate behavior toward fellow players — the game begins with a handshake among players, who must also learn to be still and quiet when others are taking their shots.

The Akron program is headquartered at Mud Run Golf Course and Driving Range, a nine-hole golf course located at 200 S. Hawkins Ave. that is owned by the City of Akron and managed by The First Tee. It is also offered at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General Challenge Golf Course on Flickinger Road in Lakemore and Brandywine Country Club in Peninsula.

Wilson said the program can be made available at any area golf course that chooses to become a program location, and City of Green officials are currently considering bringing the program to Raintree Golf and Country Club if Council agrees to purchase the property.

“This would be a natural fit for us, and it works well with our expansion plans,” said Wilson.

Beers explained the Akron chapter of The First Tee offers five golf program levels for children ages 7-13, each costing $60 for five weeks that includes 7.5 hours of classes. A peewee program for 4- to 6-year-olds is also available. In addition, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program is offered through one-day field trips or week-long camps that focus on topics such as the ecology of the golf course, its design and more.

There are four sessions offered each year, beginning in April and running through mid-October, and scholarships are available to help those in need.

Local schools can also get involved with the program through The First Tee National School Program, which offers teachers golf equipment to teach life lessons through the game of golf in their gym classes. Wilson said there are currently 41 schools in Summit County, including St. Hilary School in Fairlawn, Akron Public Schools and schools in Cuyahoga Falls and Barberton, that participate in this program. She added grant funding, as well as individual and corporate donations, is used to help purchase the needed indoor equipment.

Wilson said the program is effective.

“We run a survey [of parents and youth] after every session and it always gets high remarks,” she said. “Responders have noted an increase in confidence, responsibility, respect, courtesy and more. They have also noted improvements in social responsibility. We recently started tracking the impact on school performance, but those results are not yet in.”

Wilson said 48 percent of the participants last year were girls and 62 percent were from diverse backgrounds.

“We are hoping to grow the program into other locations,” she added. “The program does not have to be at a golf course — it can also be done at a driving range. We are also hoping to expand indoor facilities to be able to offer year-round programming.”

Area residents are invited to learn more about the program through a family fun day at Mud Run. Family Tee Time is a special offer available to parents and children that includes a free nine-hole game of golf, with a cart and a free lunch, through Nov. 17. For a tee time, call 330-375-2728.

“We are very excited about this program,” said Wilson. “Its purpose is to offer family time, uninterrupted, outside and with no technology.”

She added the day is meant to introduce area residents to the game of golf and how The First Tee can have a positive impact on youth.

“We also invite people to come see us and the program in the offseason, as we are here year-round,” said Wilson. “You can hit balls in the golf range and meet the pros.”

Wilson stated The First Tee hosts several major fundraisers annually to fund its program, with one coming up. The Chili Open, to be presented Nov. 18 at Mud Run, will offer chili and other refreshments and costs $40 per person or $80 for a team. For more details and to register, call Mud Run at 330-375-2728.

“This event, along with our Executive Dinner in April and a golf outing at Firestone Country Club in August, support scholarships for our classes,” said Wilson.

She added volunteers are always welcome to help with First Tee classes, and donations of equipment for program participants are welcome. For more information, visit www.thefirstteeakron.org.

For additional information about the program, visit the website or The First Tee on Facebook.

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