Tee it up!

“Fore!”
Not a word you normally hear from a 6-year-old, but it could become more common around Diboll as a result of the inclusion of “First Tee” in the lower grades at school.
The First Tee National School program introduces students to the game of golf, the First Tee Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits. H.G. Temple Elementary and Intermediate Schools incorporated the program into their curriculum with students getting the opportunity to visit Neches Pines Golf Course.
“The kids felt important,” said elementary instructor Pam Bass. “They were excited about participating and about going to the golf course. Their response afterward was ‘When can we go back?’”
Bass and Intermediate instructor Jeremy Stewart made the First Tee program a unit in physical education courses on their respective campuses.  Elementary students completed three lessons while Intermediate had eight lessons.
“My students learned the correct grip and stance and did some basic putting and chipping,” Bass said.
Stewart said the older students get into more details and sometimes even try driving, although they were not able to do so this time because of renovations going on at the golf course.
The mission of the First Tee program is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.  The First Tee Nine Core Values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment.  The Nine Healthy Habits include play, energy, safety, mind, family, vision, friends, school, and community.
Former school board member Jim McClain brought the program to the attention of school personnel after a Texas Association of School Boards conference.
“I was already aware of the First Tee program and thought it would be beneficial to implement it in our schools,” he said. “If we can expose the students to the game when they are young, some of them will continue to develop and enjoy it throughout their lives.  Besides, how many schools have a course like Diboll has practically right on the campus?”
McClain was also in hopes that implementation of the First Tee program in the lower grades would enhance the quality of the golf program at the high school level.
Purchase of the program included clubs for all classes in the appropriate sizes for children, practice targets, balls, and a notebook full of instructions and activities to use in administering the program.  Also, each instructor took an online course which was the equivalent of about three days’ training.
“We do nearly all our activities in the gym with the younger kids,” Bass said.  “All the students get to participate.”  She explained students with handicapping conditions are also included and that with minimal assistance they too can enjoy the experience.
During instruction teachers stress the Core Values and Healthy Habits, connecting the concepts to the game and to life in general.  For instance, Bass chooses one word each day for the elementary students and constantly repeats it during her instruction while reminding them about words that have been previously studied.
The highlight from the students’ perspective was the trip to the golf course.  Everybody in the kindergarten through third-grade classes spent about 45 minutes receiving individual and small-group instruction.  Instructors who donated their time were local golf pro Jimmy Mettlen, Chase Webb and Luis Maldonado.
The fourth- through sixth-grade students participated in a clinic held on two Mondays after school.  Jeff Stifle and Kevin Hurley were the directors for this group.
“It was a great experience for our young kids who were able to take the knowledge they learned in the First Tee program at school and apply it to the clinic,” Stewart said.  “The kids had a great time as well as the instructors!”
Bass recounted how one of her students who usually “bounces off the walls” became very focused during the golf activity.
“I had to look twice to be sure it was really him,” she said.
Since the program has been implemented, several individuals in the community have donated golf equipment or balls.  Others are constantly on the lookout at garage or yard sales for low-cost items that can be made available to students.
School personnel feel the First Tee program is a positive addition to the curriculum.
“Regardless of income level or other circumstances, everybody gets included,” Bass said.  “This program provides opportunities that might not have been open to some of the kids otherwise.”