By Gary Lloyd
Students with special needs in Valley are learning about the game of golf, thanks to some lessons and time with Abby Vinson, a 2013 Pinson Valley High graduate, and the Point University men’s and women’s golf teams.
Since mid-October, Callye McNeal’s special education class at Valley High School has been spending an hour each Thursday afternoon learning the basics of the game and practicing their new skills with Point (Ga.) University golf coach Steve Patton and his student-athletes.
“It’s their favorite day of the week,” McNeal said of her students. “They love these kids. They love the relationships that they’ve built with them, and they are on top of the world when they are hanging out with cool college kids.”
Diane Sherriff, special education director for Chambers County Schools, said the partnership gives their students the opportunity to interact with others while also helping them hone a multitude of skills that will serve them throughout the rest of their lives.
“These students are working on life skills and functional skills, including recreation skills,” Sherriff said. “We want them, when they exit school, to be as independent as possible and to have a good quality of life.”
Patton and his students say that the experience is rewarding for them as well.
“There’s something about working with someone who doesn’t know anything about golf,” Patton said. “To see the joy on their face when they hit a ball is priceless.”
Point University golfers spend their time with the high-schoolers working on proper golf techniques, but the part they most enjoy is giving their young friends a chance to hit some balls of their own. Vinson, a freshman at Point University, appreciates the opportunity to give back to the community.
“The first week we just got to know them,” said Vinson, who is majoring in business administration. “We just wanted to build a relationship with them, because we know that we can’t teach them unless they know us.”
Patton said that serving the local community is vital for his student-athletes. The teams began teaching students with special needs at LaFayette High School last month, and Patton said that they are looking forward to sharing their love of golf with more students in the local community.
“I enjoy watching the heart of my kids when they’re working with the other students,” Patton said. “They need to serve to see that there are so many opportunities out there. It teaches them how to give back, which is something that I want to instill in them for the rest of their lives.”
At Pinson Valley, Vinson placed second individually at the Jefferson County Tournament her sophomore, junior and senior years. Pinson Valley won the tournament as a team her freshman year. Vinson’s career-best round is a 77 at Highland Park Golf Course in Birmingham, a day in which she also made a hole-in-one on the par-three 14th hole.
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.