On the Right Course

Darryl Forte, a P.E. teacher at Burrville Elementary, leads his students.
Darryl Forte, a P.E. teacher at Burrville Elementary, leads his students. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2007

Dominique Jackson carefully places the purple tennis ball on the floor, positioning the arrow toward her target. She grasps her modified golf club with its large green plastic head in her tiny hands the way her teacher showed her, left hand on yellow, right on red, arms in a Y.

After a quick review of her safety ABCs -- All Sides, Broadcast and Check Again -- the 8-year-old second-grader prepares to swing.

"Brush, tick tock," she says just before striking the ball with her club. The purple orb scoots across the floor and makes contact with the Velcro target.

Jackson is learning how to play golf -- not at a fancy country club, but in Darryl Forte's physical education class at Burrville Elementary School in Northeast Washington, where close to 80 percent of the students qualify for a free or discounted lunch program. Burrville is one of a select 15 D.C. public schools participating in the First Tee National School Program, an initiative that aims to introduce children to golf.

"The trend in physical education is teaching life sports, teaching sports that children can pursue and participate in for a lifetime because of the fitness issues, keeping them active for life," said Benna Cawthorn, director of the National School Program. "Golf obviously is one of the best lifetime sports there is."

While sports such as football, basketball and baseball long have enjoyed a foothold in P.E. classes, golf has been ignored for obvious reasons. Few schools have easy access to a driving range, let alone a course, and the cost of golf equipment is prohibitive for most public school budgets. About the only way a child would be exposed to the sport was through a relative or older adult willing to teach them the game.

Because affordability and access were drastically limiting the number of potential golfers, some forward-thinking golf industry leaders began looking for ways to make the sport inclusive rather than exclusive. First Tee grew out of that discussion. The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, seeks to make golf accessible to all children, regardless of their economic background.

First Tee does more than teach kids how to hit long drives and make 30-foot putts. It uses golf as a platform to impart life lessons. First Tee's nine core values -- integrity, honesty, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment -- are at the center of every program.

The only drawback to First Tee was that boys and girls still had to find their way to a driving range or golf course if they wanted to participate in its after-school, weekend and summer programs. In an effort to reach the most possible kids, the National School Program was launched four years ago and eventually incorporated into the First Tee.

The First Tee National School Program is an entry-level golf program specifically designed to meet the requirements of national P.E. standards. Using specially produced SNAG (Starting New At Golf) equipment, elementary school students learn the basics, including proper stance and swing motion. They also are taught golf etiquette, starting with First Tee's nine core values.

"We emphasize that portion more so than skill development," Cawthorn said.

Close to a half-million kids in 70 school districts across the country now participate in the program. When the D.C. chapter of First Tee approached the D.C. public schools about bringing the National School Program here, the response was enthusiastic. More teachers wanted to participate than the budget could accommodate. As a result, a lottery was held to pick the schools. Fifteen schools took part this spring, with 30 more expected to join in the fall.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company