(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- The First Tee, a program designed to teach golf and life skill lessons to youngsters, is thriving in its infancy in the Sikeston area.
"It's going real well," said Jeff Ketterman, golf professional at Bootheel Golf Club, the home of the First Tee program. "Each week we've added more kids and they all seem to enjoy it. So far; so good.
"We'd like this thing to grow and, hopefully, we can get some kids that normally wouldn't be introduced to the game out here."
Started just seven weeks ago, the program has grown from six to 20 young people, ages 6 to 13, with positive results confirmed by both participants and their parents.
Kelly High School principal Tom Hulshof, whose 6-year-old son Nate is in the program, said, "I think the character education is really neat and they learn to swing a club the right way instead of having to relearn. I think it's a really neat program."
Hulshof, himself a golfer, sees an added benefit to his son learning the game.
"What a great game that a father and a son can go out and play," he said. "Many times it'll be my son, my father-in-law, Nate's uncle and myself, so you've got three generations that can come out and enjoy the game."
Rob Marvin of Sikeston, the father of 11-year-old Chris and 9-year-old Gage, has seen the effects of the program on his sons.
"They're all head-over-heels about golf now, constantly asking if they can go play," said Marvin.
"As far as the life skills, I think they've learned more respect for people as individuals and a little more patience."
Ten-year-old Jared Drake and twin brother Jake of Sikeston have been students in the program from the outset.
"We're learning all kinds of new stuff and we're really enjoying it," said Jared. "They teach us how to chip, drive and putt and they also teach us how to respect the golf course, how to greet people and shake hands at the tee box and how to play fair and not stress out."
Jake Templeton, 12, of Sikeston, also a participant through the first six weeks and a returnee for the second session, said, "It's taught me (course) etiquette and how to swing the clubs. You can use the things from golf in life, too. If you make a mistake, they've taught us the four R's - relax, rethink, redo and replay."
Gregg Choate, administrator of the Southeast Missouri First Tee Chapter and the person responsible for bringing the national program to the area, explained the progression of students through the early sessions.
"The Par session is set up for six weeks, although it's rare that a participant will certify out in the first six weeks because there's so much to learn -- the golf skills, the life skills and showing proficiency in both," said Choate. "When they're ready, they are given a 15-question quiz on life skills and a golf proficiency test to pass certification.
"I'd rather for them to internalize what they're being taught than to rush through and, at the end of six weeks, they haven't really learned anything. The whole idea of this program is to impact their lives and teach proper decision-making which can be applied outside the golf course as well, at school, at home and in relationships with friends."
Choate, who also oversees the program in Cape Girardeau, is pleased with the early results.
"To see them all return after the first six weeks says a lot," said Choate. "They're here for the lessons, the learning and the camaderie. We're seeing the fruits of the labor. As the program grows, we just hope to reach as many as we can and we're not turning anyone away."
Ketterman emphasized that means are available for all kids who would like to be First Tee participants.
"Wal Mart is a national sponsor and they've set aside money to help kids that don't have clubs and some of the kids that don't have transportation, we'll find a way to get them out here," he said. "I see this thing doubling each time and, as the word gets out and it gets more successful, I think we'll be surprised how many kids in the area will be introduced to the game.
"I've been very encouraged and, as long as I'm at Bootheel Golf Club, there'll always be a place for this program."