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 sm


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 the game.

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 Bethlehem, Pa.

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 ( www.2009uswomensopen.com/adopt-a-player ).

"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 adopted classrooms."

"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 female golfer.

"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 boost."

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 class.

"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 Park.

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 color."

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 way…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 "their pro."

"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 rglenn@usga.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.

 



  





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