For These Kids It's
Reading, Writing, Arithmetic ... And Golf
U.S. Women's Open players, Pennsylvania students
become high-tech pen pals through an innovative
program called Adopt-A-Player
May 11, 2009
By Rhonda Glenn, USGA
Envision thousands of schoolchildren in brightly colored
T-shirts lining the gallery ropes at the 2009 U.S. Women's
Open at this summer. They are new golf fans, perhaps even
new golfers, and all are participating in a highly touted
new educational program designed to bring youngsters into
|St. Thomas More third-graders (left
to right) Molly Cari, A.J. Palumbo, Hope Friel and
Michael Morren have been corresponding with the LPGA
Tour's Nicole Castrale through Adopt-A-Player. The
school is located in Allentown, Pa., not far from
Saucon Valley C.C., site of the 2009 U.S. Women's
Open. (John Mummert/USGA)|
That program, called Adopt-A-Player and created last
year by MSG Promotions, Inc., links some 4,000 Pennsylvania
schoolchildren to top players hoping to play in the U.S.
Women's Open, July 9-12 at Saucon Valley Country Club in
The light bulb for Adopt-A-Player went on when Mimi
Griffin, president of MSG Promotions and executive director
of the 2009 U.S. Women's Open, recalled a "Mean Joe
Greene Moment" some 16 years ago - her son's visit to
an Orlando Magic NBA game.
You remember the immortal television commercial: Mean
Joe limps off the football field to the locker room,
encounters an awestruck kid and scowls. The kid offers Mean
Joe a soft drink. Mean Joe accepts the bottle, softens,
then throws the kid a jersey. Everybody is happy and soft
drink sales go up.
Five-year-old Kyle Griffin sat on a bench in the locker
room waiting for his dad, Bill, who was visiting Magic
coach Brian Hill, his college coach at Lehigh University.
(Mom was ESPN's lead analyst for women's college hoops for
17 years.) Enter Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway. The
big men sit next to the little boy and talk to him about
his favorite game.
Kyle, now 21, will never forget his Mean Joe moment.
Neither will Mimi. And when the opportunity came to run the
2009 U.S. Women's Open, Griffin also saw it as the perfect
platform to jump-start Adopt-A-Player.
"Kyle's encounter made an indelible
impression," said Griffin, "so I wondered how we
could do that with these women players so that we leave a
legacy here, not just for the Women's Open, but for the
game of golf and women's athletics."
|Nicole Castrale is one of 25 LPGA
Tour players participating in the Adopt-A-Player
program for the 2009 U.S. Women's Open.|
Griffin and her staff at MSG Promotions began by
contacting women golfers expected to play in the 2009 U.S.
Women's Open, then signing up 76 public and private schools
all over eastern Pennsylvania. The idea was to have the pro
stars become electronic pen pals with the students,
corresponding by posting comments on a blog located on the
2009 U.S. Women's Open Web site (
"It wasn't just getting the kids and the players
connected," said Griffin. "We are teaching them
their normal lessons by incorporating the game of golf and
the Women's Open as a focal point." To make it a
learning experience, Griffin drafted her sister, Dr.
Barbara Stengel, a professor of education, and Roses
Holden, a third-grade teacher in Allentown, Pa., to write
lesson plans that follow Pennsylvania's curricular
standards. By communicating with their adopted player as
she travels the world, students enhance their knowledge and
skills in literacy, math, social studies and culture.
"I knew that the kids would love it," said
Griffin. "I'm really surprised at how the players have
embraced it. I told them we would not ask them for a lot of
time. There would be five times over the course of nine
months that we'd ask them to post a message to their
"After the program was explained to me, I knew I
wanted to participate," said LPGA star Paula Creamer.
"After I was given information and specifics about the
kids involved and exactly how the whole program would work,
I said, 'I'm all in!'"
"I've been planning on going to Saucon Valley to
play in the U.S. Women's Open since the venue was announced
several years ago," said Creamer, the top American
"Now I have a second and very important reason to
go, and that is to meet and talk with all my new friends at
St. Anne School, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and
Whitemarsh Elementary," Creamer added. "It is
really going to be fun to share some of our communications
in person. I really look forward to blocking some time off
so that I can spend quality time with all the kids and
maybe even get a few games in of four square."
Another LPGA star taking part is Christina Kim, a
two-time winner on tour. Kim corresponds with a
fourth-grade class at Fountain Hill Elementary, a public
school in the Lehigh Valley.
"The Adopt-A-Player program is an incredible way
for the players to interact with the local community, and
it gives the children the opportunity to ask questions,
learn about golf, and be inspired," said Kim. "My
favorite responses so far have been the children's
Holiday Traditions poems. The creativity of the minds of
children at so young an age is astounding, and I often go
back to the poems and smile when I am in need of a little
Teachers support the program as a positive influence on
their students. Ashley Schellhaas, a teacher at Fountain
Hill Elementary, has seen Kim's interaction with her
"This program is rich with lessons and ideas to
relate not only golf to fourth-grade boys and girls, but
the 2009 U.S. Women's Open and the Lehigh Valley,"
Schellhaas says. "Golf is a game that 20 out of 21
students in my room had almost no background knowledge of.
They now have the basic knowledge of the game and have been
exposed to golf terminology. Lessons aren't based in one
subject, they are cross-curricular. We especially love to
blog with Miss Kim. She has opened up to us about her
childhood and her present career.
|Roses Holden's third-graders at
St. Thomas More Elementary in Allentown, Pa., are
learning about geography through the Adopt-A-Player
Program. (John Mummert/USGA)|
"We feel truly privileged to chat with a
professional athlete. I wasn't expecting much contact
with Miss Kim due to her schedule, but we have received a
response after every blog. It seems as though Miss Kim is
enjoying this as much as we are. The first time that I read
Miss Kim's message to the class, you could hear a pin
drop in our room, which never happens."
A total of 25 players devote time to Adopt-A-Player.
Other participants include Karrie Webb, Virada
Nirapathpongporn, Leta Lindley, Diana D'Alessio and Jane
When Nirapathpongporn returned to her native Thailand
for a visit, for example, she e-mailed her students about
the travel and the food, giving them geography and cultural
lessons along the way.
Park, the 2004 U.S. Women's Amateur champion and low
amateur in the 2006 Women's Open, is now a professional and
corresponds with the students with enthusiasm.
"Over Christmas they wrote me little poems about
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus and candy
canes and they were so, so cute," said Park. "I
think it's great because we actually get to interact, not
face to face, but we get to share experiences with each
other. It kind of reminds me of when I was their age. I've
always loved children and I always wanted to do good things
for kids, so it's a great experience. I look forward to
seeing them at the Women's Open. Definitely."
The year-long program will culminate the week of the
championship, on Tuesday, July 7, when more than 4,000
schoolchildren will be welcomed to the grounds to follow
their adopted contestant on "Adopt-A-Player Day."
The students will receive free T-shirts (courtesy of Just
Born, Inc., a family owned confectionary company located in
the Lehigh Valley) in the color selected by their
representative player bearing the player's team name across
the chest. "The players chose their own colors, and
although they didn't necessarily fight over the colors,
there were a few players who wanted the same color,"
said Griffin. "Paula Creamer and her dad wanted to
make sure that Paula had all shades of pink as her
Jane Park, on the other hand, selected green as the
color for the T-shirts her fans will wear, "because
green is my favorite color."
Betse Hamilton, the USGA's director of the U.S. Women's
Open, is one of Adopt-A-Player's biggest fans.
"I love it," says Hamilton. "I wish I
could be a kid again! It's the most innovative educational
program in which the U.S. Women's Open has been involved.
Not only are they getting an introduction to the game of
golf and the U.S. Women's Open, the third- and
fourth-graders are getting to see the world through the
eyes of their adopted players in a fun, interactive wayâ€¦I
think the adopted players are going to love seeing their
students cheer them on."
For Griffin, Adopt-A-Player has been more successful
than she could have dreamed. For one, she's also in charge
of ticket sales for the Women's Open. The 4,000
participating schoolchildren will be admitted free
throughout the championship and will be given a free lunch
in the special Kids Club hospitality tent Monday through
Wednesday of championship week. At the Women's Open,
children 17 and under will be admitted free when
accompanied by a ticketed adult. It's not hard to imagine
some Adopt-A-Player participants returning on the weekend
with their friends and family in tow, cheering on
"Our goal was to personalize these women,"
Griffin added. "Yes, they are the best in the world in
golf, but unless you are also a golf enthusiast, who cared?
So what we tried to do is communicate the message that
these are also tremendous people."
Thanks to Adopt-A-Player, the U.S. Women's Open
championship, often shrouded in the seriousness of players
competing for the most important title in women's golf,
will draw on the youthful energy of thousands of new golf
fans pulling for their newly adopted players. Even Mean Joe
would have to smile at that.
Rhonda Glenn is Manager, Communications for the USGA.
She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Adopt-A-Player is a Service Mark of MSG
Promotions, Inc. Specializing in major event management,
marketing and client entertainment with an emphasis on
golf, MSG Promotions serves as the primary event
management firm for the 2009 U.S. Women's Open.