DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Golf is shaping values for elementary students in the Kings Local School District, thanks to a donation in memory of a former student.
The First Tee of Greater Miami Valley in April donated the First Tee National School Program to Kings Mills and J.F. Burns elementary schools. The funding to bring the program to the schools was provided through donations made in honor of the late Tyler “Ty” Robinson at the request of his parents, Rock and Sandy Robinson.
“I think introducing golf to the youth and the values that it’ll teach, to me that means a lot,” Rock Robinson said.
Ty, who passed away in October 2014, graduated from Kings High School in 2006. He played on the school’s varsity golf team all four years of high school, captaining the team his senior year.
His passion for the sport began years before high school. He was an avid golfer from the age of 5, when his father introduced him to the game.
“Golf was such an important game to Ty and Rock because they played a lot together,” said Brian Parkhurst, executive director for The First Tee of Greater Miami Valley.
Rock Robinson had participated in some of the First Tee of Greater Miami Valley’s fundraisers. So, when Ty passed away, he and Sandy quickly agreed to give donations to the organization.
While they were aware of the organization’s programs, which teach golf and character education to children and teens, they didn’t know exactly how the donations would help. They spoke with Parkhurst about potential uses for the money and initially considered putting it toward a scholarship.
“The First Tee is designed to reach all sectors of kids, whether they can afford it or not,” Parkhurst said.
Eventually, after considering the amount of money raised, he suggested putting the money toward The First Tee National School Program. The money raised was enough to cover the $4,000 cost of the program for each school; the program already was offered at South Lebanon Elementary.
It also was fitting to offer the program at Kings Mills and J.F. Burns elementary schools, given the fact that Ty attended both schools as a child, Rock said.
The First Tee National School Program is delivered through schools or youth service organizations and can be funded through a variety of avenues, from grants to donations from individuals and foundations.
“Our chapter will do whatever it takes to find the funds, if there’s a school that’s interested, because we know the funds are limited within school districts,” Parkhurst said.
The program generally is delivered as a two- to three-week physical education unit, during which Parkhurst, a PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) member, visits the school to teach basic golf skills.
“I’ve got experience with golf, and I can teach golf … but it’s nice to have a PGA professional come in,” said Joe Heagen, who teaches physical education at South Lebanon Elementary.
Heagen began incorporating the program into his curriculum four years ago, with the help of a donation from golf club TPC River’s Bend.
Students learn how to swing, putt, chip and practice distance hitting, but character education is as much a part of the curriculum as the sport itself. As part of its programs, the organization promotes the First Tee Nine Core Values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
“It’s all about empowering the kids,” Parkhurst said.
The lessons stress that values like honesty are not only important in golf, where players report their own penalties and scores, but carry over into everyday life in interactions with others, he said.
Teachers and administrators at South Lebanon Elementary this school year stepped up their efforts to teach the values both in and outside gym class. A different value is highlighted schoolwide each month, with examples incorporated into other classes and daily announcements.
Although it’s difficult for him to judge the program’s impact on students’ behavior outside gym class, the lessons are helping students learn and understand different character traits, Heagen said.
“You can ask any student in kindergarten through fourth grade, and they can tell you the definition of the word and its meaning and give an example of it,” he said.
Physical education teachers at Kings Mills and J.F. Burns elementary schools received training to deliver the program in class this spring. The program will continue as an annual unit at all three district elementary buildings.