First Tee – Greater Chicago participant Mauricio Gomez earns a Daniel Murphy Scholarship!

Original Story from December 12th, 2016:

 What would it look like to introduce a golf program to a school and a community where, quite frankly, golf is nowhere to be found on the radar?  Will the students buy in?  Will their families?  These may be relatively common questions for many new outreach programs, however for certain partner locations that face the greatest challenges, their success tends to shine the brightest.  For The First Tee of Greater Chicago, no better example can be found than that of Cesar Chavez MAC (Multicultural Arts Center).

     To first understand how the program came into existence at Chavez is to appreciate the significance of community partnerships and networking.  Playing a pivotal role was Communities In Schools of Chicago (CISC).  An Altria Success360 Grant Partner, CISC connects the chapter with prospective partner schools interested in incorporating The First Tee D.R.I.V.E. Program.  After learning about the Altria funded program via CISC, Chavez’s School Counselor, Marisela Corona, contacted the chapter in hopes of incorporating the program.  Located in ‘The Back of Yards’ neighborhood of Chicago, Chavez’s student body is approximately 97% Hispanic and 3% African-American.  Spanish is the primary, and many times exclusive, language for the majority of incoming students.  All students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, and it is not uncommon for students to arrive at school by 7am and stay until 6:30pm.  “Everyday there are shootings and crimes in the neighborhood that come across the office police scanner,” explains Assistant Principal Joe Rosen.  “Pretty much all of our students live in this neighborhood and walk to school.  They’ve become accustomed and normalized to this environment.” The allure of the First Tee Program for Chavez centered around two objectives:  reinforcement of the school’s value system and the introduction of a completely new activity for its students.  Though soccer is by and large the sport of choice within the community, Marisela and Joe saw a great opportunity to broaden the perspective of their students.

     In January of 2015, Chavez began holding their first golf classes on Saturday mornings in the school gym.  Initial attendance was routinely in the mid-teens, a healthy number when considering a.) The class was held on weekends and b.) none of the students had ever been exposed to the game.  To begin, Joe and Marisela facilitated the first series of classes alongside the chapter’s Outreach Director, Adam Murray.  Having the familiar faces of school staff as instructors not only allowed for quick acceptance among the participants, but also the families.  Parents would often remain present throughout the duration of the classes, and come down to participate alongside their son or daughter at the end of each class.  Following the class, it was common for Joe and Marisela to assist in translating to parents the various fundamentals, values and terminology learned that day.  Chavez would continue their Saturday programming throughout the end of the school year, offering additional class series for new students.  When summer break hit, Joe worked with the chapter to include a small number of his students into one of the nearby Golf Course Program Sites.  Since transportation is a significant barrier for many of the families, Joe personally drove them to and from the program site.  Continuing into the fall semester, Joe would personally drive select students to a local golf course following the school’s on-site First Tee Program.  By this time it was evident that the program had fully taken root.  “Students would point to me in the hallway and ask ‘Golf this Saturday?’ as if they didn’t already know the answer,” describes Joe.  

     As 2017 fast approaches, Chavez will begin their third year of leading First Tee classes on Saturday mornings.  A program that began with around 14 or 15 initial participants now has a sign-up list of over 70 students.  Moreover, many of the younger students are eager to participate in the same program they’ve watched their older sibling or cousin be a part of the past two years.  The First Tee of Greater Chicago, recognizing the impact being made at Chavez and other schools/organizations like it, will now further its partnership role by helping to fund transportation to its green-grass LSE locations.  The opportunity to transition these learned skills and values to the golf course, so they can be expanded upon and adopted even further, is the ultimate goal of all outreach programs.  For new participants however, the path to the golf course can more of a challenge.  Perhaps Joe put it best when he stated, “For the students who have had the opportunity to go to the course, it’s like a whole new world to them.  But they appreciate it even more because they know they’ve earned the opportunity and they feel like they belong.  We want all of our students to feel that way.” 

Mauricio Gomez 2016

Mauricio Gomez 2022

“Mauricio is a wonderful student and individual. He is value-driven, high achieving, a fantastic role model, has a strong work ethic, involves himself in extracurricular activities (such as golfing through the First Tee for the last eight or so years!), and is well deserving of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship!”

-Chavez Assistant Principal Joe Rosen

“Chavez has helped me become the strong student and person that I am today, through rigorous academic programs and all of the opportunities that I have been given. Additionally, I am lucky to have been a part of the First Tee program since I was in kindergarten. Other than learning the game of golf, it has taught me the values of integrity, respect, and responsibility, among others, which I carry with me in school and really everywhere I go.”

-Mauricio Gomez