At first glance, the name Jan Jaro might strike you as a high tech business titan from Norway offering insight into success. Hes merely a 9th grader from Jacksonville and a member of The First Tee.
Fear is inevitable. But I learned not to let the fear of failure interfere with my pursuit of dreams and goals. ' Kristen Red Horse.
Kristen Red Horse calls to mind perhaps a famous Native American philosopher. Shes a senior at New York University and also a member of The First Tee.
Powerful and radiant, both spoke before an audience of more than 600 last week at The Leaders and Achievers gala dinner to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of The First Tee in Jacksonville, Fla. PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem, the PGA of Americas Brian Whitcomb and Walter Driver of the U.S.G.A were among those spellbound.
Their organizations, along with Augusta National Golf Club, the LPGA and corporate entities like Shell Oil Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Coca-Cola, planted the financial seeds a decade ago with the hope of opening golfs doors to children who otherwise wouldnt have access.
Now its springtime for The First Tee, prettier than Central Park in May. Joe Louis Barrow, chief executive officer of The First Tee, beams like a grateful father. His own famous dad, were he here today, would undoubtedly be just as proud for he loved the game, too.
I spent my best time with him on the golf course because it was private, Louis Barrow recalled. No one could ask for his autograph; though, a restaurant was a different story.
Joe Louis, No. 1 on Ring Magazines list of the 100 greatest punchers of all time, won arguably the most important boxing match in history. Golf figured prominently in the outcome.
The son of an Alabama sharecropper and one of 11 children, Joe Louis was introduced to golf by Ed Sullivan, whod given an instructional book to Joes wife, Marva. When he finishes reading this Ill get him a set of clubs, the entertainer said.
Louis would become so fixated on the game that many people feel he lost to Max Schmelling in 1936 because he was more focused on golf than on preparing for the German heavyweight, who knocked out Louis in the 12th round at Yankee Stadium.
Said his trainer, Jack Blackburn, The muscles youre using on the golf course are not the muscles you need to beat Schmelling.
You can blame his loss to Schmelling on Ed Sullivan, jokes Louis Barrow, the son.
That, Louis Barrow feels, was his fathers most important fight because it taught him the importance of discipline. The 1938 rematch was the most famous.
With Nazi black boots marching across Europe, Louis-Schmelling II was framed as a clash of civilizations, a battle between good and evil, the free world versus Adolph Hitler. Over 76,000 packed Yankee Stadium. Millions more huddled around their radios.
Louis KOd Schmelling two minutes and four seconds into the first round. He became a national hero for blacks and whites, later a U.S. Army staff sergeant who fought 96 exhibitions for more than three million troops.
Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon said of Louis that hes a credit to his race'the human race.
Louis retired in 1949 after reigning as champ for 11 years. He fought 13 times in 1935 alone! The gloves off, Louis poured his energy into golf, carrying a four handicap and good enough to have once beaten a 16-year-old named Lee Elder for the UGA National Amateur Championship in 1951.
Louis reportedly lost big money on the golf course to hustlers like Smiley Quick. But he was also generous, helping black professionals like Bill Spiller, Teddy Rhodes, Howard Wheeler, Clyde Martin and Charlie Sifford make their way in a white mans sport.
Louis actually became the first African American to play in a PGA-sanctioned tournament at the 1952 San Diego Open, bringing his son into the sport along the way.
Id go visit dad in L.A. and wed play the Western Golf Course, where a number of blacks at the time played, Louis Barrow said. I remember playing with Althea Gibson and I couldnt believe how far she hit it.
Today, Louis Barrow oversees a First Tee program whose numbers impress like his fathers boxing records.
There are 257 facilities in 46 states and six countries. Ninety percent of the 257 facilities are on public ground.
The fact that a city council would provide land for golf speaks to their belief that were going to have a meaningful and lasting impact on the kids in their communities, explained Louis Barrow. That is a significant Tiger effect. Now these elected officials think golf is OK, because kids have interest and kids are interested because of Tiger.
Five-hundred thousand elementary students in 1,300 schools will have been introduced to golf through the National School Program by years end.
In Texas, for example, the Houston Golf Association/Shell Houston Open funded a program at Whispering Pines Elementary School. There are values they will learn in the program that will be with them for the rest of their lives, said Paul Parker, PE teacher at the school.
We have educators speaking to the value of golf added Louis Barrow.
By 2010, nearly 5,000 schools will reach more than two million kids. Thats in addition to the million-plus in the chapter facilities, meaning all told (equal) close to five million children, said Louis Barrow. There is a conscious effort to take golf to where kids are. Obviously when were in schools were reaching a lot of diverse kids and thats an exciting development in terms of golf becoming a sport for all kids.
The First Tee aims to teach youngsters the motion of the swing but more importantly expose them to the nine core values of the program. Its not a game improvement program, said Paul Giordano, who oversees some 2000 kids at Moshulu Park in the Bronx. Its a youth development program.
The nine core values are honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
Not surprisingly, teachers want those core values in their homerooms, too.
Were positioning golf as more than a game, said Louis Barrow.
Studies at the University of Florida and the University of Virginia show that 76 percent of parents saw an increased level of confidence in their children as a result of their involvement in The First Tee. Fifty-two percent saw academic improvement.
Ninety percent of the kids in the Virginia study could specifically tell you where they were using what they had learned about respect in other aspects of their life, said Louis Barrow with obvious pride. That means they have a greater respect for their brothers and sisters, parents and teachers.
Were creating partnerships with individuals who previously had a very limited perspective as to what golf was. It was for men'elite, wealthy and white.
According to the PGA TOUR, the fastest growing fan base is African American and Hispanic American.
If we want to grow the game, cautions Louis Barrow, we have to increase the number of diverse players because traditional golfers as defined by white males and females are not a growing segment of the population. Its sheer demographics.
Twenty percent of First Tee participants are African American compared to six percent for all of golf. Eight percent are Hispanic Americans compared to five percent for the whole of golf. Fifty-four percent of First Tee participants are Caucasian. That number is 85 percent for all of golf. Thirty-three percent of First Tee participants are female versus 25 percent in the game at large.
Distinct among those, Kristen Red Horse went from aimless California teenager to full scholarship student at a prestigious American university. She recently spoke to members of Congress.
Last week she stood before a room full of people in Jacksonville and said in closing, Thank you for raising me and for caring about me as a person first and a golfer second.
Her timing and delivery were impeccable, like a perfect right hand from Joe Louis.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner