First Tee programs, rapidly growing, teach lessons that go beyond golf

By Katherine Schaeffer
Published on
First Tee programs, rapidly growing, teach lessons that go beyond golf

BEAVER, Pa. – Most children recall their first golfing experience on the putt-putt course, guiding a glowing neon golf ball into the mouth of a revolving windmill or putting it past a plastic gorilla.
But at Beaver County's First Tee schools, golfing fundamentals are introduced early.
Eighteen Northwestern Primary School first-graders divided into groups during Scott Stiteler's Wednesday morning physical education class, taking turns hitting colorful tennis balls with vibrant plastic putters and wedges.
Just a few minutes before, Stiteler's students gathered in a circle on the Northwestern baseball diamond's outfield, where Stiteler reviewed the values associated with the game of golf – respect, courtesy and the theme of that day's lesson, responsibility.
Northwestern, Patterson Primary and Blackhawk Intermediate schools joined Midland Elementary in implementing the First Tee National School Program during physical education class this year. The program is an extension of Black Hawk Golf Course's First Tee of Beaver Falls, a summer golf program for children ages 4 to 17, which teaches nine core values along with the game itself.
Beaver County Christian School plans to teach children First Tee curriculum in the fall.
Black Hawk Golf Course in Chippewa Township has been offering its First Tee's summer program since 1999 and has served more than 6,000 children, including two PGA professionals, said Irene Ridenour, executive director of the First Tee's Beaver Falls chapter.
First Tee is a national nonprofit whose mission is "to impact the lives of young people through learning facilities and educational programs, promoting character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf."
The summer and school curricula teach students motor skill development and the importance of physical activity, but more importantly, learning the game exposes children to character traits that extend beyond the course, like respect and courtesy, Ridenour said.
"The things you learn in golf, you can apply to everything in your life," she said.
Beaver County Christian School physical education teacher B.J. Vucelich said usually incorporates golf etiquette into elementary classes with a Frisbee golf unit, and is looking forward to engaging students with a traditional golf unit next year. Starting in the fall, Beaver County Christian School will introduce First Tee to grades two to five with a grant from First National Bank.
"It adds depth to my program," Vucelich said. "I always look for ideas that engage the whole class. I really like to have interesting and creative units."
First Tee's school curriculum provides physical education teachers with an introductory golf curriculum for grades K-5, with lessons that incorporate healthy lifestyle and the First Tee nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment – as well as nine core healthy habits.
First Tee's goal is "enhancing lives of kids through life skills and through the game of golf," and adding the program to gym class curriculum should extend its reach to more children, Ridenour said.
Schools pay a one-time $3,500 fee for curriculum, golf equipment and teacher training, Ridenour said, and Black Hawk Golf Course has tried to mitigate the cost, facilitating grants from local banks and businesses.
Midland started its First Tee program in physical education classes last spring with a grant from Portonova Farmer's Insurance Agency in Midland. The program's emphasis on strengthening character traits and the students' enthusiasm made First Tee a good fit, and some children even hit the green or the driving range during summer break, Principal Brenda Militello said.
"This gives them another sport to pursue if they have interest in it," Militello said.
Blackhawk's program, new this year, was sponsored through PNC Charitable Trusts, which provided equipment for its two primary schools and BIS.
Athletic Director Jack Fullen said he sees value in the game of golf as a lifetime sport and a family activity, and because so many Blackhawk students have enjoyed First Tee's summer program through the years, he was enthusiastic about adding its curriculum to the school day.
"It's a great thing for the younger generation as they get older," Fullen said.
This article was written by Katherine Schaeffer from Beaver County Times, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.