by Alisha Tillery
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
Thirteen-year-old Sara Smith stood with her legs parted and knees bent slightly as she steadied herself and swung a shiny golf club. Smith is one of 50 rising eighth-grade girls who recently gathered at Firestone Park to show off their golfing skills, courtesy of a new partnership between Girls Incorporated of Memphis and First Tee of Memphis.
Part of the national Eureka! Program, a national Girls Inc. initiative that encourages girls' exploration in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career paths, participants are required to take swimming lessons, along with another alternative sport to learn life skills and personal development. The program is funded by the foundation for Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical company.
First Tee of Memphis, an organization that provides educational programs through golf, offered to provide Eureka! participants with four weeks of golf lessons to teach the basics of the game, such as form, putting and high swing. Girls Inc. President/CEO Deborah Hester-Harrison said the partnership was a perfect fit.
"It's a great opportunity for these girls," Hester-Harrison said. " (First Tee) incorporates these life lessons as part of it. It introduces them to STEM, and that's the primary focus."
As for the girls, they've taken to the new sport quite nicely.
"I'm in love with golf," Smith said.
Nyrone Hawkins, executive director of First Tee, describes golf as a physical sport, but one that also teaches core values, such as integrity, judgment and respect.
"Each day, our lessons are centered around one of our core values. We teach that, and we let the kids fall in love with golf," Hawkins said. "That transfers into schools, that transfers into homes. Once you expose young people to this game, you open up Pandora's Box, and you never know where they're going to end up."
Hawkins pointed out that the sport is in need of more female players, so girls who excel can potentially earn scholarships to play golf in college.
Eureka! exposes girls to non-traditional careers, as well as personal and professional development opportunities, in hopes of encouraging them to pursue post-secondary education and careers in one of the core areas of STEM. Rondalyn Martin, coordinator of the Eureka! Program, said the positive effects that golf has had on the girls is evident.
"They're all eager to let me know what they learned from golf," Martin said. "Just seeing the growth in them from day one has just been amazing."
Imani Campbell, a student at Center Hill Middle School in Olive Branch, Miss., said playing golf is far better than watching it on television.
"I would think it was kind of boring because it's a quiet sport. I like it now because it's more fun playing it than watching it," she said. "The staff at the golf center are really good teachers. They make it so I can learn quickly, and they present it in a fun way."
Eureka! is open to eighth-grade girls each year. For more information, visit www.girlsincmemphis.org.