GAME DAY Youth Sports Magazine — Upstate SC - February 2012
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First Tee takes game to schools
Karen L. Puckett

Although there are no Hula Hoops on the golf course at The U.S. Open, students at Houston Elementary School know they are an invaluable tool to learning the game.

“Safety is a big part of golf,” says Fran Dunn, executive director of The First Tee of Spartanburg. “The kids stand inside of the Hula Hoop if they are not hitting the ball so they keep a safe distance.”

In October, Houston became the first school in Spartanburg County to implement The First Tee National School Program (NSP) in its regular physical education instruction. Add Inman Elementary, Oakland Elementary, Pacolet Elementary, West View Elementary, Pine Street Elementary, Boyd Elementary and the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, all of which will began their instruction after the Christmas break, and the total number of children in the county learning golf and life skills grows to nearly 4,000. On a national level, the NSP reaches more than 2 million students in about 4,100 elementary schools, according to Dunn.

“A lot of these kids have never held a golf club or have not been exposed to the game before,” Dunn says. As a result, they learn the basics, for example, how to grip a “launcher,” a descriptive word that U.S. Open commentators otherwise refer to as a driver. A putter is a “roller” by the way.

As for the life skills part, the NSP “promotes personal character development in a physical education setting and is taught in gyms and on playgrounds by physical education teachers during school hours. Its curriculum includes nine core values (Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy and Judgment) and nine healthy habits (Energy, Play, Safety, Vision, Mind, Family, Friends, School and Community).

“Golf just happens to be the vehicle teaching them character education and healthy habits and it makes it fun for them,” she adds.

In order for these children to reach golf and life skills instruction through the NSP curriculum, physical education teachers themselves must learn the program and obtain certification. Twenty area teachers in the county did just that at the training hosted by Spartanburg School District 7 in mid-October. The other key ingredient to making the curriculum a reality in a school is sponsorship. The one-time cost to sponsor a school is $3,090 (or $6.18 per student). The start-up fee includes curriculum, teacher training and equipment. Other school districts in South Carolina include Aiken, Barnwell, Charleston and Greenville.

The NSP,which started in 2004, is also a marketing tool for the local First Program in Spartanburg. In 2011, 520 kids participated in The First Tee programs on its two campuses-- The Creek Golf Club and Woodfin Ridge Golf Club. With further exposure and recommendation from physical education teachers, more children are expected to join that number this year.