As An Alternative Lifestyle?
It Is For These Kids
How the Advantage Academy, an
alternative high school near Detroit, is using golf to give at-risk
teens a second chance
March 25, 2009
By Matthew Keys
Three years ago, Jordan Crump, then a 15-year-old sophomore, found
herself capping her school days not with homework but with late-night
partying. To avoid the temptation of giving in to drugs and a dead-end
lifestyle, Crump enrolled in an alternate high school, the Advantage
Academy in Southgate, Mich.
Three years later, Crump, now a senior at the Academy, reflects
on her decision to transfer.
"It gave me a second chance," said Crump.
Just 10 miles from the hardened streets of Detroit, Southgate's
Advantage Academy serves some 350 at-risk youth. The student body
is diverse, as are the troubles that confront these young men and
women – among them, underage drinking and drug use, teen pregnancy,
and the sundry hazards of growing up in broken homes in hard economic
times. While they grapple with their adolescent demons, many students
are getting what they couldn't find in a traditional high school
setting – as Crump said, a second chance.
|Michigan-based PGA professional Chris Grandy,
far right, offers instruction to Advantage Academy youths.|
Since opening its doors in 1996, the Academy has shaped its curriculum
to fit the "whole" student, letting at-risk teens shed
unfavorable reputations and make something of themselves. Just as
at any other school, academics take precedence at the Academy. Stressed,
also, is the development of the essential traits of self-confidence,
interpersonal skills and leadership ability through non-traditional
courses as well as with an accredited athletic program.
"We have a variety of sport-focused programs our students
participate in to help them develop as people," said Dave Peden,
superintendent of the Academy, "including flag football, basketball,
and baseball. But most popular is our golf program. By far."
While most Academy students are all too familiar with rough terrain,
virtually none came to the school having navigated a fairway or
putting green. That changed in 2006, when teacher Scott Stacey and
Ruth Kemp, the athletic director, recognized the value that golf
could add to the Academy's curriculum.
Stacey and Kemp needed two things to start the program – a lead
instructor and a golf course. They approached Chris Grandy, PGA
Professional at Southgate Municipal Golf Course. Grandy mulled over
the request for a few weeks.
"At first look, you see these kids, with their tattoos and
piercings, and I was skeptical," Grandy admitted. "I caught
myself thinking that maybe the golf course wasn't the place for
If anyone could understand the impact golf can have on a young
person, however, it's Grandy.
"I just kept reminding myself that I was raised in the ghetto
of Detroit and had many close calls when I was growing up,"
he said. "Had I not gotten into the game of golf, my life would
have been a lot different."
Grandy's hesitation became commitment. With his support, and the
help of a $7,500 programming grant from the United States Golf Association,
the Asher Golf Program was born.
Named for the building that houses the Academy, the Asher Golf
Program initially consisted of nine weekly sessions. The first two
sessions were held on school grounds and provided an overview of
golf rules and etiquette. Equipped with this basic knowledge and
clubs donated by the community, students were taken to Southgate
Municipal Golf Course for the third session. Under Grandy's tutelage,
students progressed from the practice range and putting green to
the course. By the end of the program, participants were playing
three to four holes per session.
|Interest in golf has spread quickly at the
Advantage Academy since first being offered in 2006.|
Sixty-five students gave golf a shot during the program's first
year. Few may have believed alternative high-school students would
embrace a traditional game like golf, including the students themselves.
Jordan Crump, one of the 65 pioneers in 2006, recalled her skepticism.
"I'm a girl and a minority person," said Crump. "I
didn't think people like me played golf. But I signed up because
I wanted to expand my horizons and to show other people like me
who haven't played golf that they can."
Fellow students took note, and interest in golf quickly spread
throughout the halls of the Academy. By 2007, enrollment had soared
to 150 students. To satisfy this demand -- more than 40% of the
student population applied to the Asher Golf Program that year --
Stacey and Kemp added an intermediate-level class. Created with
the support of a second USGA grant, the new course enables kids
to invest time in golf during the fall and spring semester.
Students aren't the only people attracted to the program. Community
members have become involved, building bridges to a better way of
live for the students. This is most apparent in the students' healthy
interaction with the local police force.
"With the state of the economy, our involvement in schools
has been limited," explained Chuck Castle, Southgate's chief
of police. "When Ruth Kemp reached out to us to become involved
with her school and the golf program, we jumped at the chance."
The officers now take part in the Asher Golf Program's annual golf
tournament, which pairs students and school administrators against
Castle and a handful of his officers. The time on the course gives
the officers an opportunity to show how much they care about the
"The perception to some of these kids is that police officers
try to take freedom from people," said Castle. "Getting
involved with this program has given us an opportunity to show these
kids that we care about them. We want nothing more than to see them
Castle is optimistic that the golf tournament will become a staple
of the program.
The Asher Golf Program has become so popular that Stacey admits
to using it as a carrot, trading admission for academic achievement.
"Recently, I had a deal with one student who wanted to join,"
Stacey said. "I told him that if he passed a majority of his
eight classes I'd let him in. He passed seven out of eight for the
first time in his academic career, and is now a golfer. We'll do
whatever it takes to keep students in their classrooms and help
them to graduate."
While students get hooked on the game, the essence of the alternative
education is never lost.
"Students are held responsible for learning the game of golf
to receive a good grade," Stacey says. "Learning the game
doesn't mean we're so concerned with their ability. Rather, we assess
them on proper behavior, safety, etiquette and interaction with
As the lead instructor, Grandy teaches students the intricacies
of golf, from swing fundamentals to the game's rich lore and inherent
values. His initial hesitation has long since melted away.
"These kids are so interested to learn the game. They are
an absolute joy to work with," said Grandy. "Everybody
has wrongly judged a book by its cover and, boy, I was guilty of
that when I was first approached."
To ensure their interest in golf continues, Grandy gives students
free access to play his course outside of scheduled program sessions.
"Some participants are now regulars, and are getting pretty
good," said Grandy. "Sure, they get some looks from other
customers, but the customers just don't know what I know, that these
kids never cause any problems. It's great to see them out and playing
on their own time."
Golf and its inherent values have proven to be the agent of change
these students need. Golf now consumes Jordan Crump's spare time,
leaving her little opportunity to succumb to her old temptations.
"I would way rather play golf in my free time than do anything
else," said Crump. "In fact, I've begun to get my friends
involved to help them change their ways. Golf is a great way to
open new doors and give me self-esteem."
For Crump, golf's discipline has brought academic success. Her
report card is now highlighted by As, Bs, and Cs, and she will graduate
with her class this June. She will be among the first to apply for
the Kathy Wozniak Scholarship, created in memory of the late Food
and Beverage Director at TPC of Michigan, a strong supporter of
the Asher Golf Program. Scholarship funds from Stacey and Kemp's
fundraising efforts will help pay for post-secondary education for
selected golfers from the program.
For its efforts, The Asher Golf Program was recognized in 2008
as the Outstanding Program Component by the Michigan Alternative
Education Organization. The recognition prompted Dr. Pam McAuslan,
Professor of Psychology at the neighboring University of Michigan
in Dearborn, to assess the program's ability to institute change.
"Having anecdotal evidence of change is great, but I want
to take it a step further," explained McAuslan. "By June
2009, I hope to have research to illustrate the program's influence
on increased retention rates in the school and improved self-esteem
and enhanced academic achievement among participating students."
The program's success may persuade other alternative high schools
to use golf to help steer at-risk kids toward greener pastures.
"I would encourage any school to do it," confirmed Academy
superintendent Peden. "Absolutely."
Matthew Keys is a third-year Fellow with the USGA's Grants and
Fellowship Program, based in Colorado Springs. For more information
about the USGA's Grants Program, call (719) 471-4810 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.