Just to be clear, the First Tee of Fort Worth is not a believer in the highly polarizing proverb “it takes a village to raise a child.”
The First Tee believes it takes a village with a golf course. Or at least a golf range.
The organization’s mission has trickled very steadily throughout the city’s streets the past two decades and in recent months it has taken an ever bigger step in living out its creed.
With the opening of a range facility at Briscoe Elementary in the Morningside neighborhood, the First Tee has expanded its resources to offer even more children, many of whom are raised in traditionally underserved areas of Fort Worth, a truer experience of its missionary venture.
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More than 5,000 school-age children live within two miles of the facility.
“The kids in that neighborhood now have access to the full-scale experience, not just the kids at Briscoe, but all of the children of Morningside,” said Kevin Long, the executive director of First Tee Fort Worth. “Right now, we’re working with over 1,000 kids a week already. We feel like when you talk about the program being accessible to all children in our service area, this is a huge step.”
The Briscoe facility is used for the school’s physical education curriculum, in its after-school program, and now during the summer months.
The facility, which includes artificial surfaces for putting and chipping greens, was funded by the Rainwater Foundation. The land was provided by the Fort Worth school district, which also gave the First Tee a portable building.
It’s all part of the First Tee’s effort to make greater efforts in outreach to underprivileged communities.
The facility at Briscoe is a miniature model of the First Tee’s Ben Hogan Learning Center at Rockwood Golf Course. Everything that can be done at Rockwood can be done at the Briscoe facility, except actually getting on a course.
However, about 80 of the kids from the Briscoe facility go to Rockwood to get on a course every other week.
“A year and a half ago, they had never been exposed to golf,” said Jason Rocha, the Briscoe site coordinator. “Now they participate in the PGA junior league in the 13-under category. Now they’re getting on the course, playing the game, learning how it works and seeing it.
“They eat it up. They can’t wait to go. They love it.”
The objective here is not to develop the next Tiger Woods, though learning the game is certainly part of the curriculum. Golf is one of those sports one can play for life. And that is important.
But, the first objective is for the children to become versed in the program’s nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment.
Along with those are lessons in life skills, such as making proper introductions, managing emotions, resolving conflicts, setting goals and appreciating diversity.
Long, the executive director, said the First Tee reaches about 50,000 children a year in Tarrant, Johnson, Parker and the southern part of Denton County. The number is expected to grow to 100,000 in just a few short years.
“It’s not only about the game, it helps you build character and meet new people and make new friends,” said Abdel Mansour, 11, a student at the Briscoe site. “It teaches you to show respect to others and your surroundings, the code of conduct, perseverance and so many other things.”
Said Rocha to this writer: “I didn’t tell them [another youngster said much the same] to say that. In fact, I didn’t even tell them you would even be here. That says a lot. That’s No. 1. The golf is great, but it’s all about character development.”
Soon, the First Tee will have three hub locations, including Rockwood and Briscoe, when a Ben Hogan Learning Center opens at Squaw Creek in Willow Park to serve Parker County.
However, there is more.
The AT&T Foundation is also getting involved at Briscoe through a mentoring program at Morningside Middle School.
Thirty AT&T employees will partner with 30 middle-schoolers for one-on-one mentoring. Those employees will be schooled in the objectives of the First Tee, with the added purpose of making those children aware of all the careers in technology that exist right now.
“Things like that are going to happen over there,” Long said. “It’s really neat.”
The moral of that story: Those things happening in Morningside are a win-win for both child and village.