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Published: Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Page: 12A

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - The Greenbrier Classic focused on giving back and investing in the future Tuesday with the celebration of Youth Day at the inaugural tournament.

Several events were presented throughout the day in cooperation with The First Tee chapters of West Virginia and the Roanoke Valley.

The First Tee is a national organization that aims to provide young people the opportunity to develop values through golf and character education.

The program emphasizes perseverance, honesty, sportsmanship, responsibility, judgment, integrity, respect, courtesy and confidence.

First Tee CEO Joe Louis Barrow Jr. said the organization aims to teach kids how to set goals, trust their judgment and have confidence in themselves.

"The most important investment we can make in our society is young people," he said Tuesday morning at a fundraising brunch attended by participants and sponsors. "They represent 100 percent of our future."

He said a survey of parents whose children participated in First Tee programs showed 76 percent saw their child's confidence increase, 70 percent saw them exhibit better social skills and 56 percent saw their child's grades go up.

He said after hearing of The First Tee, State School Superintendent Steve Paine decided he wanted to use the program's nine core values as a cornerstone of character education in state elementary schools.

West Virginia is now the first state to partner with First Tee in implementing the program, which has already begun at schools in Martinsburg, Charleston and Huntington.

"I'm singing the praises of West Virginia as I travel around the country because you all are a leader in that regard," Barrow said.

Greenbrier owner Jim Justice spoke to The First Tee youth and shared his experiences learning golf from his father growing up.

"He introduced me to the game of golf, and it taught me more than you'll ever know," he said.

"The great game of golf and your great organization. . .is going to transcend so much farther than swinging a golf club. It's going to teach you the values that will help you do great things," he said.

He told the children that living life with passion, having a dream and setting their bar high were all keys to reaping success later in life.

Professional golfers Rocco Mediate and Paul Goydos also talked to The First Tee members at lunch about the role golf can play in building character.

"The one thing that golf does, it produces great citizens," Goydos said. "The reality is, it teaches you to be a better citizen and how to treat your competitor - and that person ends up being your neighbor, your co-workers or an employee."

Following brunch, Beckley residents Ryan Kissinger, 17; Nathaniel Begley, 17; Brittani White, 16; and Hardy, Va., resident Kolton Cooper, 15, were matched up on teams with professional golfers Davis Love III, Jonathan Byrd, Webb Sampson and West Virginia Amateur Champion Jonathan Bartlett to compete in a four-hole golf scramble.

The prize for the scramble was a $10,000 purse donated equally to The First Tee chapters of West Virginia and the Roanoke Valley.

For Kissinger, who was paired with veteran golfer Love, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It was amazing. It took me awhile to realize these guys were humans, too," said Kissinger, who has watched the pros on television all his life.

"It was the experience of a lifetime. I learned to take it slow, line up the shot and don't worry about the spectators."

Kissinger said the lessons could be applied to all aspects of his life.

He said he first got involved in First Tee five years ago, and the values he's learned from the organization have helped him be more confident.

"It really helped me out today, standing up against the pros," he said. "They were easy to talk to and get along with. They're probably some of the nicest guys I've ever met."

Kissinger said he's encouraged his friends to join as well. One of those was Matthew Perlaz, 17, who had been a part of First Tee for only a few weeks before attending Youth Day on Tuesday.

"I thought it was pretty cool," he said. "I haven't been to something like this before and it's a neat experience."

The best part was seeing his friend out on the course lining up shots with the pros.

"Watching him play and seeing him go up against actual professional players - that's not something you get to see everyday," Perlaz said.

Kissenger ended up coming in second in the scramble after he and Love tied with the team of Begley and Byrd. Begley won in a sudden death shoot off.

Following the scramble, kids were treated to a demonstration from trick shot specialist Dennis Walters.

Walters had always dreamed of playing professional golf, but a 1974 accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. However, he didn't let that stop him.

"Needless to say, in 1974, it was looking impossible for me to accomplish my dream of playing professional golf," he said before driving several perfectly straight shots hundreds of yards down the practice grounds. "If I can do this, I'm here to tell you, you can do anything.

"Never let anyone tell you you can't do something, or your dream is impossible," he told the youth. "Never give up on your dreams."

Following Waters' presentation, professional golfers Ricky Barnes and Charlie Hoffman conducted a clinic with the youth, answering questions and demonstrating several techniques for improving one's golf game.

First Tee of West Virginia Director Mark Mays said the first Youth Day was a success, and he hoped they could repeat the event in the future.

"We could not be more pleased with the turnout, participation and response," he said.

He credited The Greenbrier and Justice, as well as corporate sponsor Polo Golf, which donated the $10,000 purse for the charity scramble, as making the day possible.

"You always think good, better, how," he said. "We've got our foothold, going forward we aim to get better, and the how is through local support - we can't do that without support."

He said The First Tee of West Virginia was looking for more local sponsors to help build on a grassroots level beyond its current local groups in Beckley, Martinsburg and Charleston.

Professional golfer Davis Love III helps Ryan Kissinger, 17, of Beckley, line up a putt on the first hole of a golf scramble at the Greenbrier. Pros were paired with teenage members of The First Tee, an organization that uses golf to help kids build character and other values. A donated $10,000 prize for the scramble was to be split equally between Virginia and West Virginia chapters of the group.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at or 304-348-5148.

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