With support of The First Tee, a Valdosta elementary school makes first-ever trip to THE PLAYERS
March 13, 2019
By Doug Milne, PGATOUR.COM
- March 13, 2019
- Through The First Tee, kids from Moulton-Branch Elementary had the opportunity to attend THE PLAYERS and met eight-time LPGA winner, Brittany Lincicome. (PGA TOUR)
In the relatively quiet, rural community of Lowndes County, Georgia, dreams and determination develop early. It’s a place where creativity enhances a spirited work ethic and increases one’s opportunities to learn of – and, ultimately, get their arms around – the outside world.
It’s a place defined by a community that works together, rallies together and plays together.
And, it plays hard. By all accounts, football takes top billing in the Valdosta-engulfing county.
But, nowadays, football isn’t all that drives kids’ inspiration. Golf has made its way into the mix. And, nowhere is that philosophy more tightly embraced than at Moulton-Branch Elementary, a Title 1 school in Valdosta delivering The First Tee National School Program from Southern Company funding.
As an extension of what the kids learn through The First Tee program, the physical education teachers at Moulton-Branch went out on a limb with a suggestion to start an after-school golf club.
No one knew what to expect.
“With so many kids that were enthusiastic about The First Tee, we just decided to take it a step further and try it,” said Christine Brooks, Moulton-Branch P.E. teacher and golf coach. “We did, and the response has been great.”
“A lot of these kids had never even touched a club before The First Tee, so it was the first time doing anything with golf,” said Amanda Hughes, Moulton Branch P.E. teacher and golf coach. “In Lowndes County, it’s all about football. So, the thought was to introduce them to the game when they were young, because a lot of time they get to middle school and have no idea what it is."
“We knew if we could get them started early, we would grow the numbers, grow the interest and grow the game. We believed we could capture their interest at this early age and just let them have fun with it. That’s exactly what they’re doing with it. And, the hope is that the interest will continue and that they may even be able to create golf-related opportunities for themselves.”
The local Valdosta newspaper featured a story about the school’s golf-related efforts, which resulted in people coming from all over to donate clubs, balls and even gloves. Parents helped, neighbors helped. Some had kids in the school and program. Others didn’t, but just wanted to see the effort thrive.
“We are a Title 1 School, so a high percentage of our children come from low-income families,” said Brooks. “So, a lot of these kids would never make it to a golf course if we didn’t have this.”
“We were nervous about introducing golf,” said Hughes. “In our area, it’s all football, baseball, basketball. I coached tennis for years and had to go recruit kids, because there was never enough interest. So, we were overwhelmed by how many kids wanted to do it. All the time, the kids come up and ask us if we have golf today. They get so excited.”
The students didn’t have golf as they knew it Tuesday of this week. Instead, the group of students, along with parents and teachers, made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, for THE PLAYERS Championship – and, specifically, to the Kids Zone presented by The First Tee, an interactive area for kids and families to enjoy all week.
For many, it was their first experience beyond county lines.
To make the experience even more unforgettable, the afternoon also featured eight-time LPGA winner, Brittany Lincicome.
“We had been educating them about Brittany Lincicome all week and they have been so excited to come here and meet her,” said Hughes. “Brittany was so sweet to take the time with the kids that she did.”
“I am so happy to be here with them,” Lincicome said. “I have been so blessed to be able to play golf for such a long time. So, to be able to give of my time to these kids is an honor. And, you never know, an experience like this could truly change the direction of a kid’s life. One of them – or more – may even go on and try to pursue professional golf as a career.”
The day was about much more than pursuing golf, however. The kids, Brooks said, were simply amazed by just seeing the grass.
“Honestly, just leaving Lowndes County was a first for some of these kids,” Brooks said. “Just passing by the big buildings in downtown Jacksonville on the way here amazed a lot of these kids. They just haven’t had the chance to be exposed to this kid of stuff before. And, that made it all the more special.”
“There’s not only the economic factors that make it hard to get away,” said Angel Weeks, a teacher at Moulton-Branch and mother of nine-year-old Erin, who is in the golf club, “but also the fact that most families have moms and dads that both work and don’t have time for extracurricular things like this. So, we are able to provide things at our school for them.”
“To see their faces and learn how to manage being out and about was wonderful. Many of these kids haven’t been out in social settings, so it has been a great chance to talk about etiquette and rules and manners. As a teacher, it has been great for me to see this happen for our kids. Their faces are all lit up and I know they will all go back to school tomorrow and be all bubbly as they tell their friends all about being here today.”
“I remember being nine and wanting to learn the game,” Lincicome said. “My parents were both school teachers, so we didn’t have a lot of money. So, organizations like The First Tee gives kids the opportunity to experience the game that may not otherwise have the opportunity.”
Again, it’s creativity. It takes one’s hopes to the next level and paints a clear picture of what’s possible, regardless of where one comes from.
“We have to give a big shout out to our P.E. teachers for even having the idea,” said Weeks. “We had art, archery and running clubs, but golf was a big one. It was a big step. We had nothing to start with other than some cups on a gym floor. Now, we have nets, multiple sets of clubs for right-handed people and left-handed people. The donations have helped so much.”
“We had over 30 kids here from Moulton-Branch,” said Lincicome. “They were all so excited and it’s just awesome. Now, they all have such big smiles on their faces. That’s what it’s all about.”