Did you know that one in five public school students drop out before they finish high school? The numbers for young people of color are closer to 50 percent. What’s more, research shows that if children aren’t performing at grade level by the third grade, they’re at a significantly higher risk of not completing high school.
These staggering statistics are why, after years on the front lines of urban education, I’ve chosen to follow my passion for developing young people as the executive director of The First Tee of Greater Detroit.
I believe great things are possible when professional and personal passions come together. I personally share the principles that The First Tee of Greater Detroit stands for: Teaching young people core values and life skills through a great game like golf. Inherently, golf causes a person to value principles such as honesty, judgment, perseverance, and integrity.
These values transition to life, be it at home, at school, in the workplace, or in the community. I’ve learned from some great mentors. As an African-American male, the lessons, stories, and guidance I’ve received from those who have gone before me have shaped my beliefs. Now, as a former educator turned youth development leader, I take seriously my responsibilities to use what I’ve learned to instill that knowledge and experience in the young people I encounter.
A philosophy I learned from a great mentor is prophetic: “In order to make good citizens, you must teach character. Young people have to develop a set of core values that will lead them along the path of righteousness. If shown the right direction, they will become attracted to activities that will help them learn skills that lead them to a life of prosperity, community development, and philanthropy, giving back to the community that guided them in the right direction.”
As a former middle school principal in Milwaukee, I doubled as the boy’s seventh/eighth grade basketball coach. During the season, we would hold a “fun” lock-in for the entire middle school student population. As one would imagine, the students were able to choose several of the activities in which they could participate.
Of course, basketball was on the menu. Several students staged pick-up games. One of my favorite students even decided to take his shot at beating the “Old,” as he put it (even though I was a spring-like 35 at the time), at free throws. That didn’t go so well for him.
After my free throw game, I took some time to observe the whole gym and monitor what the students were doing. On a side court, I noticed one of the team captains was by himself, endlessly shooting free throws. I certainly never required any of my players to play basketball during a lock-in, much less practice free throws.
I approached him and started rebounding for him. I asked him why he was shooting free throws alone during “fun time.” He informed me that it was no fun the previous Saturday, missing two free throws that forced our team into overtime. I was puzzled, since we ultimately won the game.
He vowed to me that he would never cost his team again. While I’m certain he would face other adverse situations in life, either on or off the court, I knew right then this young man would be disciplined enough to handle whatever life threw his way.
While that great story about a wonderful young man shows what sports in general can teach our youth, what separates golf from other sports is the inherent values that exist within its rules. To be sure, I challenge you to find another sport where, in regular competition, individuals call their own penalties .
Integrity is one of the nine core values of The First Tee, along with courtesy, responsibility, judgment, respect, sportsmanship, confidence, honesty, and perseverance.
It is these nine core values that provide the basis of how The First Tee of Greater Detroit goes about using a great sport like golf to create better people — not golfers, but people. I could relay story after story of how we’ve impacted young people throughout our great city. That’s why I’ve chosen to be a part of this great organization.
How cool is it that youth golf is experiencing a renaissance in Detroit at the same time our city is on its way back? That’s precisely why I’ve chosen to lead and support an organization like The First Tee of Greater Detroit. I urge you to join me and get involved.
Jody Dungey is executive director of The First Tee of Greater Detroit, an international youth development organization that provides educational programs through the game of golf.