SPECIAL GOLF FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE
By Holden Patterson, TFTBC Ace level participant
An essential part of the mission of The First Tee of Brunswick County (TFTBC) is building community partnerships and engaging in constant community outreach throughout our area. As part of that ongoing effort, TFTBC was honored this year to participate for the first time in the Brunswick County Special Olympics held on Friday April 20, 2012 at Town Creek Park. This was the first time that golf had been introduced into the county’s Special Olympics.
Cloudy morning skies broke open to mid morning sunshine as hundreds of special Olympians of all ages arrived at the park. I arrived early with a van full of golf equipment and awaited the other eleven TFTBC volunteers. I was event captain for the day because I’ve been a Special Olympics volunteer since 2005 and been involved with these kids since working with Jacob, a Down’s Syndrome friend from back in my days in High Point, North Carolina. So we pitched our tent and set up the SNAG (Starting New At Golf) equipment—a developmentally appropriate system of modified and colorful clubs, balls, and targets. Four stations went up—two each for putting and chipping.
After we donned our volunteer tee shirts, we and all of the event’s volunteers were then summoned for the opening ceremonies at the baseball field. There, school participants and other Special Olympians paraded onto the field by teams, over 300 excited young athletes along with their parents, escorts or teachers. After the National anthem and an invocation, the horn sounded and the Olympians rushed off to “let the games begin.”
We no sooner made our way back to our location and were immediately engaged by players anxious to get to know golf. With the help of our The First Tee volunteers they soon got into the swing of things. Most of our players were holding a modified golf club for the very first time. After some grip alignment and swing adjustments they began to catch on and understand how to make the ball go towards the target. It only took a couple of shots more before they were hooked and then they didn’t want to put the club down. Every time they hit the target—smiles laughter and cheers all around.
For the rest of the morning, more and more Olympians came by, some hesitant at first, others stepping right up. For The First Tee volunteers, it was a steady stream of players getting to know golf for the very first time. At noon time the competitions wound down and a great cookout was served up by the grill guys and gals. About 1:30 we dismantled our tent and golf stations all the while comparing notes about our favorite competitors. For each and every volunteer, most of whom had never attended a Special Olympics, it was a collective feeling of satisfaction just for being there and bringing smiles and laughter to the new golfers of the Special Olympics. For me personally, these experiences have shaped who I am and always make me grateful for everything I have in my life, including The First Tee, an organization that constantly reinforces the importance of giving back.
This special day couldn’t have happened without the TFTBC volunteers—Board members Linda Bradley and Mike Gildea, our Executive and Program Directors Rebecca Albin and Terry Mauney, volunteers, Jim Huber, Ed Kay, Valerie Taylor, Dean Mason along with my sister Caroline and not-so-little brother Landon. A special thanks to my mom Kay who initiated the Special Olympics partnership and from the Parks and Recreation Department, Steve Goodwin, the event’s master of ceremonies who so brilliantly directed the day’s events along with Melinda Johnson, our The First Tee liaison with the Department.
It was indeed a special day helping some very special people and a unique experience for The First Tee of Brunswick County. We’re looking forward to being there next year.