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See how a North Carolina school for ‘at-risk’ students is using golf to teach patience, perseverance and discipline

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SHELBY, North Carolina. On an overcast Thursday afternoon, after everyone has already left Turning Point Academy, Jermetris Jackson, stick in hand, strikes from the far end of the driving range. After taking a little time to line up his shot, he swings and watches as his ball just slides past the hole.

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Behind him, Eric Smith, a therapist at Turning Point Academy, located on the western edge of the Charlotte metropolitan area, announces “It’s a G” before stepping up and throwing his own punch.

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Thursday’s GOLF game, similar to the popular HORSE game played on basketball courts, has become the highlight of the day as part of Turning Point’s new golf curriculum.

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On better weather days, Jackson, Smith, and the other five teens in the program were across the street playing golf balls on an unused baseball field.

“We just started in March. We’ve been talking for a while about something like this that we can do,” Smith said. “Basically, we just wanted to give them an outlet so they could do something. Many times when they come here they cannot participate in team sports. We wanted to come up with something that they could take part in. Many of these kids have probably never played golf or run a club before.”

The club theory is pretty simple. Golfing provides many valuable life skills, including patience, perseverance, and discipline. By teaching the game, Smith, along with Dwayne Friday, Turning Point’s support staff and club coach, hope to pass on these skills to students.

“We’ll go out and hit a bucket of balls and have some fun. Then we have to go get all the balls and that’s the time you can talk about some of those conversations and talk about goals on the pitch. And during the golf briefing, there are other conversations about how it relates to everything else,” Smith said. “So it’s less than just sitting around and let’s talk about it and then you can go play.”

Although their idea was supported by the school administration, Smith and Friday need help to run the club.

That’s where Ryan French and his 96,000 followers came in.

French, who manages the Monday Q Twitter profile (@acaseofthegolf1), makes a living covering professional golf. He also co-leads the Fire Pit Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young golfers and growing the game by supporting low-income schools looking to build golf teams.

“I think that comes with so many social skills, as well as the skills of honesty and integrity. This is the only game I can think of where the referee doesn’t follow you around. You assign a penalty to yourself and keep the score yourself. I think there are so many skills that can be applied in the classroom, in business, or in life in general,” French said.

After speaking with Smith and discussing the needs of Turning Point Academy, French took to Twitter to raise donations to launch the program, something he has done for schools and teams in the past.

Smith soon began receiving new and used golf clubs, balls, bags, and practice equipment from golfers around the country. With the help of the Fire Pit Foundation, he works to provide complete club kits for program members, as well as club kits that students can pick up at Shelby’s Royster Memorial Golf Course.

“I have a lot of followers and they are amazing and passionate people. So I wrote – hey, this school needs donations – and usually about 100 people send something, ”he said.

“They didn’t have to do it; they could go on with their day. I appreciate that they let us do it now,” said Cooper Weaver, a freshman at the club.

Cleveland County’s alternative school, Turning Point Academy, is one of the first schools that the Fire Pit Foundation aims to connect with and continue to provide support for.

“The goal is to stay in touch with all these schools, and we are building relationships with club manufacturers, ball manufacturers, clothing companies so that schools are not in the same position in two or three years,” French said.

Efforts to lift the club from its place at Turning Point have so far been successful. Instructors from Shelby Parks and Recreation and the Cleveland County Country Club volunteered to teach the students.

Friday said that in just a few months, he saw noticeable improvements in the students who joined the club.

“It’s just amazing. We told them if you want to be here, you must come to the school. And we saw a change in their attitude and in their attendance,” he said.

Jackson, who was successful in that game of GOLF on Thursday, said he would never have tried the game if it hadn’t been for the club at Turning Point Academy.

“I thought it was a terrible sport because of how boring it was on TV. Now I think it’s fun. For me, it relaxes, heals,” he said. “I think the point is that you don’t have to rush things. It feels like in any other sport you always have some kind of opponent or defender. In this game, everything depends on you. If you make a mistake, it’s all on you. If you get an L, you get an L.”

As the school year draws to a close, Smith is looking for ways to continue working with members of the golf club this summer. He hopes to invite members to Royster Memorial Golf Course this summer for a nine-hole course. For most, this will be their first time on a real course.

“We hope it continues to grow. Maybe next year we can add some of our students,” he said.

Dustin George can be contacted at 704-669-3337 or email [email protected]


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