(pictured above: Malcolm Gant instructs a young golfer.)
By Kim Underwood
W–S/Forsyth County Schools
Malcolm Gant was 5 years old when he first participated in Vic Johnson’s Junior Golf Clinic. He liked the experience so much that he came back year after year. Now 15, Gant participated in a new way at the most recent clinic.
“This is my first year coaching for the Vic Johnson program,” he said.
Gant, who will be a sophomore at Reynolds High School, was one of seven golf coaches who had been working with elementary and middle school students for two mornings a week since June 17 at Reynolds Park Golf Course.
“I love that I am able to give back the game of golf to little kids,” Gant said.
Johnson, a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and a retired assistant principal, started the annual clinic in 1997 because he thought that golf had a lot to offer young people. This year, 71 students participated. Most go to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. A few go to public schools in another county or to private schools. A few – like Jamie Niderost who will turn 5 on July 29 – haven’t even started school yet.
While learning the proper way to hold the club and address the ball, students also learn life lessons that will serve them from now through adulthood.
“I think it builds good character, discipline, listening and following through on instructions,” said Betty Wallace, a school counselor at Sedge Garden Elementary who was among the adults on hand to help.
When Gant came to the clinic for the first time, he already liked watching golf on TV but thought that playing it might be a bit dull. That changed the first time he hit a ball.
“There was something there,” he said. “I would try not to miss a single day of the Vic Johnson program.”
Gant likes that golf is both competitive and calm compared to some other sports.
“You can control yourself while you are being competitive,” he said.
As Gant got older, Hiawatha Bethea, one of the adult clinic coaches, took him under his wing and would take him to the golf course at Winston Lake for additional coaching.
“He had determination and wanted to learn the game,” Bethea said.
Having Gant join him as a fellow coach makes Bethea feel both good and a little old.
“Good gracious, time is passing on,” Bethea said.
Coach Roger McIlwain said that it had been a particularly good group of students this year.
“Everything has been great,” he said. “I love teaching the kids, especially when they are willing to learn.”
This is the sixth year that Chase Adams, a rising sixth-grader at Walkertown Middle School, has participated in the clinic. He keeps coming back, he said, “’cause it’s fun.”
When he plays golf on his own, the best that Chase has done so far on a hole is to shoot par on a par 3. When Chase grows up, he may become a professional golfer or a video game designer or both.
“Since I like golf so much, I want to create a golf game,” he said.
Raven McCluney, who will be a third-grader at Union Cross Elementary School, already knew a lot about the importance of having strong character before participating in the clinic. In recent weeks, she has learned even more.
“Part of character is being nice and friendly and helpful,” Raven said.
And if someone trips and falls, you go over and help the person get up.
“It’s your job to help even if you are not asked to,” she said. “I learned some of that when I got here.”
Harry Giles, who teaches physical education at Ibraham Elementary School, was there to help out as well.
“I like working with kids, giving back to the community and helping kids reach their goals,” Giles said.
It’s not possible to teach golf in the elementary school, Giles said, so he appreciates students being able to learn about it at the clinic.
Creating that opportunity was a major reason that Johnson started the clinic. With such sports as football and basketball, Johnson said, students have many opportunities to play. Not so with golf. Because he thinks playing golf can be a valuable, life-long sport, he wanted to give students a chance to learn about it when they were young.
“They have a life skill,” he said.
Johnson’s wife, Dr. Constance Johnson, a retired Winston-Salem State University professor, helps him run the clinic along with volunteers, people from Winston-Salem Recreation & Parks Department and a dedicated group of coaches that also includes Joel Maul, Luther Miller, Harry Transou and John Torian.
At the program to celebrate the last day of the clinic, Torian spoke along with Tim Grant, the director of the Winston-Salem Recreation & Parks department, and Stan Elrod, the athletic director for high school sports for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
Aramark Food Services provided the food. Volunteers from the offices of the chancellor and provost at Winston-Salem State University served it.
Torian showed that even the letters in “golf” can help provide direction in life. He told the students that “G” stands for “good attitude,” which is important if you want to go anywhere in life. “O” stands to “opportunity,” as in it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities that come to you. “L” is for “listen” because listening is how you learn, and “F” is for “fun” because, while you are listening and taking advantage of opportunities, you need to remember to have fun in life.