Life lessons through golf: Mississippi Urban League, First Tee, 100 Black Men join forces

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Rick Cleveland

Eight-year-old Jakenzi Veal, receives golf instruction from Henry Davis.

“It takes a village.” The adage is often attributed to Hillary Clinton, who, as first lady, borrowed the saying as the title to her 1996 children’s book. In fact, the adage comes from at least one old African proverb, which roughly translated, means, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.”

You may agree or disagree, but Wednesday the words seemingly came to life during a morning spent at Pete Brown Golf Course (formerly Grove Park Golf Course) in northwest Jackson.

There, about 50 mostly inner city children were smiling, laughing, playing, mostly behaving and learning while being introduced to the sport of golf. Pete Brown, the late Jackson golf legend for whom the golf course is named, surely would have loved it.

So what’s that got to do with “it takes a village,” you ask?

Rick Cleveland

Three groups have come together to help make this golf/life skills program a reality: the Mississippi Urban League and First Tee of Central Mississippi, with badly needed financial support from 100 Black Men of Jackson.

Wednesday, you had former Jackson fireman Luther Thompson, an accomplished amateur golfer himself and a First Tee volunteer coach, putting the mostly elementary school youngsters through chipping drills. They played tic-tac-toe by chipping into squares. You had Henry Davis, an after-school instructor for the Mississippi Urban League’s youth program, teaching the golf swing to another group with the neophyte golfers who hit (and missed) golf balls through hoops.

Ken Lindsay

You had golf professional Ken Lindsay, former president of the PGA of America and former First Tee board member, running another drill with a third group of children. An First Tee’s program director Ali Miller worked with still another group.

The children learned how to grip a golf club, how to swing it and, perhaps more importantly, how golf is the only sport in which the players keep score and call penalties on themselves. In golf, integrity is paramount.

It wasn’t all strictly golf. The youngsters did stretching exercises, balance exercises and some calisthenics.

 

Beneta Burt

All the while, coaches never missed a chance to stress a golf lesson that might apply to life skills as well. As Beneta Burt, president and CEO of Mississippi Urban League, put it: “The core values inherent in the game of golf are life lessons as well.”

The Mississippi Urban league, an affiliate of the national Urban League, each year runs a summer program designed to insure inner-city children are provided with healthy meals, academic and cultural enrichment activities, health and wellness activities, and a safe and secure environment in which to spend their out-of-school time.

First Tee

Former Jackson fireman Luther Thompson with two of his First Tee golfers, Andrew Wilhelm (left) and Gabe Hodo, at LaFlleur’s Bluff Golf Course.

Recently, Burt met Margo Coleman, executive director of First Tee of Central Mississippi, and the two have joined forces to greatly enhance the youth golf program at Pete Brown Golf Course.

First Tee of Central Mississippi already had instructional programs at LeFleur’s Bluff Golf Course in northeast Jackson, Sonny Guy Municipal in west Jackson, Deerfield Golf Club and Canton Country Club in Madison County and Bay Pointe Resort and Golf Club and The Refuge in Rankin County.

“Our program is not about becoming an excellent golfer, but about setting goals for yourself, learning responsibility, respect and integrity,” Coleman said. “You are learning all the life skills you need to be a successful young person and young adult. Golf is just the vehicle to get you there and allow you to have fun while you are learning.”

Margo Coleman

First Tee stresses nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgement. Those are values that Jackson native Pete Brown, the first African American to win on the PGA Tour, understood and exhibited throughout his career.

Certainly not all these children – and, likely, not any – will become as accomplished a golfer as Pete Brown, but all can profit from the life lessons golf teaches.

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Summer First Tee of Central Mississippi sessions at several Jackson-area golf courses begin soon. See thefirstteecentralmississippi.org for details.

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Sports columnist Rick Cleveland is on the First Tee of Central Mississippi Board of Directors.