Students find lessons, stimulation through First Tee donated golf equipment

By Margaret Moffett
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Students find lessons, stimulation through First Tee donated golf equipment

JAMESTOWN -- Bryant Kerley moves excitedly through the stations at the Haynes-Inman Education Center gym, ready to conquer whatever golfing objective is before him.

From his wheelchair, Bryant has already rolled a large, felt-covered golf ball down an incline, and launched another across a table with the press of a button.

But can he toss one toward a target? He grins and nods his head affirmatively.

"Bryant hurls the ball. He hurls it!" says an excited Vicki Misenheimer, an exceptional children's teacher at Haynes-Inman who works with Kerley.

"He's a wild man!"

Bryant and his classmates at Haynes-Inman, a school in Jamestown for students with profound physical and cognitive disabilities, spent their PE period Thursday experimenting with new golf equipment.

So did students at Jones Elementary in Greensboro.

The larger-than-regulation balls, clubs and tees came courtesy of First Tee of the Triad, a nonprofit that uses golf to teach character-building lessons to students.

First Tee also covers the cost of training for PE teachers to learn the program.

Jones needed new equipment after a small fire destroyed what they had previously been given.

Haynes-Inman didn't have any golf before Thursday. Vicki Simmons, the PE teacher, adapted it for students like Bryant, creating sloping "greens" and button-activated "putters."

Two schools. Two different student populations. One resounding message:

Character education isn't so boring when it's packaged with golf.

"Adults learn golf under a lot of pressure," says Mike Barber, CEO of First Tee of the Triad, as he watches the students at Jones.

"But this is fun. Nobody's telling them how to grip. They just hit a Velcro ball with a club and smile."

It's then -- when students are relaxed and enjoying themselves -- that teachers sneak in the First Tee curriculum. Each golf outing is punctuated with core values like sportsmanship, respect and courtesy.

So when students from a third-grade class at Jones finish one exercise and rush to another without returning the equipment to its proper location ...

"Guys," a teacher implores, "don't just leave your station for the next group to clean up."

They dutifully return to the station and straighten their mess.

At Jones, the boys overshoot their targets, demonstrating almost comical feats of strength.

The girls, however, take practiced, precise strokes. Jacqueline Urena addresses the ball -- there's even a small waggle -- and makes contact with her target.

"I did it! I did it!" shrieks Jacqueline, 8.

At Hayes-Inman, success is measured more subtly, since many of the students can't walk on their own or speak their thoughts.

But success comes nonetheless.

It comes when Connor McGuire, 10, successfully places a ball on a table -- aided by his teacher.

And when Grace Buckman turns her head ever so slightly as she feels the putter in her hands.

A teacher shouts from across the room: "Nice stance, Grace!"

And when Elijah Minor turns his head toward Misenheimer when he hears her voice talk about the softness of the golf ball.

"Way to go, handsome," she says, as his eyes meet hers for one brief moment.

This article was written by Margaret Moffett from News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.