“My Adventures as a Volunteer Coach”, is what I would entitle the past five years of coaching Birdie participants in Brunswick County! Just thinking about some of the past memorable moments makes me laugh and shake my head, especially when it comes to Cassidy and Curtis…..
I first met Cassidy in the The First Tee’s fall session of Birdie class in 2014. I had been a volunteer coach for about three years at that point. Cassidy had just started middle school. We were usually paired up together as coach/student with another girl when we went out on the course after the lesson for that day. Cassidy usually didn’t want to hit first, her confidence was very low, and she was intimidated by the boys golf ability. I told her “don’t worry about it, someday you’ll be beating those boys”. I would tell the girls stories of my younger days learning to play golf, how you just have to stick with it, practice will get you better, and you will improve and learn to love the game and the values and life skills it will teach you! I’d try to make it FUN by bringing pink golf balls or tees, as Cassidy was always dressed to the nines with nice golf outfits. We even discovered we had the same striped Adidas golf shirt, but different colors! A connection, for us girls at least! Most weeks though, she’d forgotten a warm enough jacket for class, so eventually I starting bringing my lime green and turquoise beach jackets for her to wear. I can remember driving back to the clubhouse after playing a couple holes laughing all the way about whatever!
As I was writing this article, I started digging through old emails and found one in the Spring of 2016 asking my lead coach “Didn’t Cassidy sign up?” I knew she had a bright future with The First Tee and I wanted to be sure she continued with the program. Cassidy was back in the Fall! After that fall 2016 Birdie session, through perseverance and encouragement, Cassidy certified to move up to Eagle level! A week later, I took her out for 9 holes at my home course with another Birdie classmate so she could get some scores posted, a requirement for Eagle level. On the first hole, second shot in the middle of the fairway, I said……”girls, girls, girls……..please put away your cell phones….we are here to play golf, not look at pictures of boys you like”! After every shot, Cassidy would get in the cart, even if her Ball was 10 yards away! “Cassidy, you can walk, you know, it’s only 10 yards!” We had a lot of fun that day, and talked about the usual stuff – boys, boys, boys! Some of which were negative comments. But nonetheless, it was a teachable moment. We discussed the Golden Rule.
I hadn’t seen a lot of Cassidy for the next year as she was in a different Eagle class than mine. However, this past Fall at Eagle class, we were together again! The transformation in Cassidy was truly remarkable. She has turned into a mature, confident and poised young lady, as well as an excellent golfer. What surprised me the most was her engagement in conversation. She told me about being selected to participate in her high school state tournament in Pinehurst as the top golfer on her team. That was an incredibly proud moment for me!
Cassidy will be one of two participant speakers at The Golf Ball, a major fundraiser for our chapter in March 2019. I can’t wait to hear her speak, as I’m sure I will be beaming and dropping a happy tear or two. Who knows what the future will bring for Cassidy, but no doubt it will be full of exciting opportunities, achievements, and more adventures.
Curtis and I met in his first Birdie class in the Fall of 2015. Curtis’s maturity and demeanor was impressive for his young age of 11, the youngest in the class. Curtis lives in my community with his grandparents. I had met his grandmother while golfing several years prior to his participation in The First Tee. While he was a quiet participant, he was a pleasure to coach, and it was obvious he was going to be a great golfer with his natural athletic ability. I would take him out to the driving range to work on his swing and have putting competitions with him when his other sports of baseball and football conflicted with First Tee class. If he missing a shot, he would quickly look at me and say “what did I do”? Most times I’d say, “oh well, try again, it happens”!
In the Spring of 2016, I started taking him out to play 9 holes as often as possible. He was always receptive to advice and he continued to make great progress. His confidence was contagious! I remember a shot he executed perfectly out of the rough to a tight pin with the green running away from him. There was no way I’d try the baby flop shot. But Curtis did! Doesn’t he stick it close. So I figured, as his coach, I couldn’t chicken out! Well, I surprised myself with a tap in! High fives all around! That summer, I asked Curtis to play on our team at the Future Generations Tournament, our chapter’s largest fundraising event! He was so excited, but I think I was more excited. We had an AMAZING time, and he got to meet a lot of people who were excited to meet HIM.
Over the next two years, with a lot of hard work, Curtis moved up to Eagle, and we played or practiced every chance we could! Always finishing with an “Around the World” putting competition. I told him it will help him make clutch putts! He made the middle school golf team, was hitting the ball further than me, and has grown at least a foot! One day after playing 9 holes together, he came over for dinner and to meet some of my extended family. Curtis surprised me when he asked if I had ranch dressing to go with his baby carrots! Yikes, I hadn’t had ranch dressing in the house since my boys went away to college. That was the day Curtis discovered he had a new “go to” snack…..baby carrots with peanut butter!
At the end of the last class of the 2018 spring session of Eagle, I told Curtis that I would be with him every step of the way until he got that golf scholarship from The First Tee to play in college. I think that really made an impact on Curtis. My most memorable adventure with Curtis was being selected to play in the Inaugural Mentor Cup 2-person team in October 2018 in Myrtle Beach. Working on the Mentor Cup application together was really fun….”Curtis, when you say ‘she helps me……’, who is she?” “Oh yeah, Miss Judy”, haha”. “Full sentences Curtis”. We set specific goals for that tournament, worked hard for seven months, and made sure we coordinated our golf shirts for our big day! We played really well in the Mentor Cup, even though we were freezing. Curtis showed up wearing shorts after I told him not to the day before. Boys! Curtis told me that this was the biggest golf day of his life! It was for me too! An experience both of us will never forget!
We are looking forward to Curtis moving up to Ace level soon and us playing in the Mentor Cup again this coming October. Curtis is going to help me with the 2019 Spring Birdie class that I coach to get some of his volunteer hours in for Ace level. We also are looking forward to opportunities for Curtis to speak at various First Tee events. Oh, did I mention, he’s only an 8th grader? Curtis recently commented to me that “everything I do well is because of what I’ve learned in The First Tee”. Now if that’s not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is!
~ Judy Cuppernull