Drive4Success Teaches Life Lessons Through the Game of Golf
The First Tee of the Triangle’s after-school program gives kids a path to success
Photo courtesy of Jeanna Gatten
Jessica Rice would not have classified her third grade son, Langston, as a die-hard athlete. Most sports he tried had never piqued his interest. But when Drive4Success, a pilot after-school golf program run by The First Tee of the Triangle, came to his school, he decided to give it a try.
The results astounded Rice. “He blew our minds after the first day because this was all he talked about. He wanted to play more, he wanted to learn more,” she says.
An athlete herself, she loved that he found a sport he could enjoy, but what moved her the most was how he grew as a person. “It gave him a different type of confidence,” she says. “His self-esteem grew. It wasn’t about competition — it was more, ‘Do the best you can do and we’re all going to encourage each other.’”
That personal growth is precisely the mission of The First Tee, a national nonprofit that strives to teach character development through the game of golf. Of the 150 First Tee chapters throughout the U.S., the Triangle chapter is the first to partner with schools to create an on-site, after-school program.
Originally pitched to principals at the 12 elementary support model schools within Wake County Public School System in 2016, Fox Road Magnet Elementary agreed to host the pilot program in spring 2017. Eleven children were part of that first six-week program. One year later, in spring 2018, the number of participants jumped to 351 unique registrants in the 12 schools.
“We had so many girls who weren’t confident in P.E. class, and I saw this program develop their confidence,” says Jeanna Gatten, PE teacher at Fox Road Magnet Elementary and also the teacher of that first after-school program. “There were kids who didn’t feel like they had too many friends, and now they’re in a group, and they took ownership of it.”
The program made such an impression on her that, as the program grew the following year, Gatten applied for and accepted the position of director of school programs for The First Tee of the Triangle. She now oversees Drive4Success and is excited to help the initiative grow and increase its impact on children.
Each week of the program focuses on a core value, a healthy habit, etiquette and a golf fundamental, such as club grip or putting form. The nine core values that are highlighted nationally through all The First Tee programs are confidence, courtesy, respect, responsibility, judgment, sportsmanship, perseverance, integrity and honesty.
Healthy habits are divided into three categories of wellness: physical (play, energy and safety); emotional (vision, mind and family); and social (friends, school and community).
Drive4Success prides itself on bringing everything that the program will need, including training and equipment, to the schools. More importantly, though, the cost of the program is relatively small to begin with (generally $50 at most schools), and no child has ever been turned away for the inability to pay. “And no child ever will,” Gatten emphasizes.
“Our goal is to help the kids succeed in life,” Gatten says. She describes the image of a child standing on a tee, looking out at that tiny flag so far away.
“In life, starting at the tee, or thinking of your goal, you might think, ‘I’m never going to get there.’ But, with persistence and perseverance, eventually, you will get there,” she says. “Drive4Success provides the tools, which is the character-building, to help [kids] believe in themselves and stick with whatever their goal is. So they can eventually reach that point where they can turn around and say, ‘I made it — and it wasn’t as far away or as unattainable as I thought.”
Mandy Howard is a freelance writer and mother of three in Raleigh