Young golfers experience RISE through The First Tee academy

July 31, 2018

By Denise Spann

EAST LANSING, Mich. – For the second consecutive summer, young golfers and coaches at The First Tee: Life Skills and Leadership Academy participated in RISE workshops on identity, diversity and using sports as a vehicle for change.

The First Tee is an organization helping kids develop skills to become leaders in their golf chapters, schools and communities while experiencing championship golf and career exploration. This year’s summer program was filled with 96 selected teen golfers and 24 coaches. The national academy was hosted by Michigan State University and The First Tee of Mid-Michigan.

Student-athletes at The First Tee: Life Skills and Leadership Academy participate Friday, July 27, in an activity about the labels they use to describe themselves.

“RISE gives them perspective-taking opportunities, and it hones in on the leadership qualities we are trying to teach them and how to dig deeper and get to know someone, before making assumptions about them,” said academy coach Alissa McClimans.

Added academy coach Shai Celeste: “Diversity is one of our goals at The First Tee to make sure our coaches, as well as our participants, are diverse. So, it allows them to enter dialogue that they might be thinking about, but they don’t have a way to talk about. It allows them to express themselves, as well.”

RISE trained First Tee coaches to facilitate the session on Identity and Diversity on Friday, July 27, and a session Saturday. July 28, on Sports as a Vehicle for Change. RISE staff also engaged in the sessions and provided support.

Friday’s session helped student-athletes explore the labels they use to describe themselves and some of those others have used to define them. They discussed the power of those labels with emphasis on the diversity that exists both within the group and themselves as an individual.

“I feel identity is important because when you walk up to someone and shake their hand, if you don’t know who you are, then how are you meeting that person? How is that person meeting you,” junior golfer Bobby Sena said. “I feel like identity is one of the pillars of living a great life. We all go through adversity and celebrating that diversity while going through the adversity of life, but it’s knowing who you are that makes it easier to go through said adversity.”

One of the activities allowed the high school golfers to write 10 labels about themselves, giving them the chance to self-identify. When going through the exercise, they had to get rid of nine labels, leaving them with only one thing to describe themselves.

Participants in The First Tee: Life Skills and Leadership Academy have a discussion during a RISE workshop Friday, July 27.

“I identify as biracial. My mom is African-American, and my dad is born and raised in Scotland, so I’m Scottish,” junior golfer Sara Rintol said. “Growing up often people didn’t ask, they just assumed what my identity was. So, I’ve always clung so hard to the fact that I am Scottish, I am African-American. When we ripped up our cards, I was conflicted cause I knew both of those words were just huge parts of who I am. I couldn’t choose, and at that moment I realized that even though those words make up so much of my life, they aren’t just who I am. I’m not just an African-American. Scottish girl on the block. I want to be an activist because I don’t want my words that define me to just be about myself. I want to make an impact on other people’s lives, and I want to be an advocate for others and those who don’t get to share their identity and their experiences because they don’t have that opportunity. So, the word activist is not only who I am, but who I’m striving to be.”

Following the path of focusing on identity and diversity, the student-athletes had a deep discussion about defining ethnicity and diversity and what exactly those words mean.

“So, going into this conversation, I believed race is confined to black, white, Hispanic, Asian,” sophomore golfer Nathaniel Rivera said. “Where ethnicity you can have multiple backgrounds like different kinds of European, while race is very unitary. Now coming out of the session, I learned you don’t have to be confined to (a particular label of race that others assign) one race because of identity, so if you feel like if you’re African-American or you’re black, that’s when the instructor was giving the example that you can decide for yourself based off where you grew up and who you think you are as a person.”

The First Tee Academy has nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

RISE staff member Andrew Mac Intosh speaks to student-athletes during a session about Identity and Diversity on Friday, July 27, at The First Tee: Life Skills and Leadership Academy.

McClimans, the coach from The First Tee of Mid-Michigan, said the RISE modules reflected the judgment core value most.

“Using good judgment and digging deeper on who somebody is, getting to know them,” McClimans said. “Bringing up race, ethnicity and getting deeper into what the definitions of those things are, gives them a way to form good judgement on others.”

The student-athletes said the RISE sessions helped them to understand other people’s perspectives.

“This RISE session we had really opened my eyes to other people’s experiences and people’s identities and their views on life and race and everything that goes into being a human being,” Rintol said. “So, I think that to develop successful young people we must talk to others and coordinate with people who aren’t like us in a diverse setting, and we will be more empathetic and sympathetic and that will be able to change the world.”

Denise Spann is a summer 2018 intern for communications and marketing in RISE’s Midwest office in Detroit.