Young Golfers Getting Chance to Learn More Than Just a Game

By Pat Fitzgerald / Greene County Record

Young Golfers Getting Chance to Learn more Than Just a Game

Fifteen-year-old Michaela Dean is going from a golf spectator to getting the chance to immerse herself in the game for three straight days at the Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County. And it’s all because her parents signed her up for the First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge’s program at The Highlands Golf Park in Greene County. “My Dad took me to the driving range one day and I saw a board that said … ‘lessons’ and I thought I’d try it.” For eight weeks this spring, Dean and several other girls and boys from throughout the area learned not just golf skills — but life skills as well — from Gretchen Scheuermann, who runs The Highland Golf Park and Pirate Pete’s Mini Golf on U.S. 29 just north of Ruckersville. “It’s a great program for golf skills, but there’s a lot of focus on life skills and core values,” Scheuermann said. “There’s a lot more to the program.” “It’s a curriculum-based program that’s based on life skills, core values and healthy habits — and then the golf skills,” said Bruce Blair, program director for the First Tee of Virginia Blue Ridge. “It’s seamlessly delivered. …” Joining Dean at next month’s golf camp will be Kylie Shifflett, a 13-year-old rising eighth-grader at William Monroe Middle School, and Addie Stauter, another 13-year-old who is home-schooled. Recipients of the Virginia State Golfer Association’s Fleming Fund scholarship, the young golfers will learn “lessons for a lifetime” conducted by PGA professional staff of the Wintergreen Golf Academy. The camp is designed to give young golfers the tools to reach their goals and fulfill their potential through hands-on individualized instruction and supervised daily course play, all while having fun and making new friends. The camp, spanning four days and three nights, will include individual and group lessons and play on the Devil’s Knob and Stoney Creek golf courses at Wintergreen Resort. Students will learn and develop skill sets in core areas. This camp is exclusively for the 16 junior girls who have been nominated by First Tee chapters in Virginia and accepted for camp tuition payment by the VSGA Fleming Fund. Only girls already approved through the First Tee sponsorship process may register. Shifflett’s hoping to improve her putting game. “When I first started [First Tee], I was bad at putting but now I’m better at it,” she said. “They had a desire to learn and improve,” Scheuermann said. “It’s just really evident in the class we had. They were very respectful and had good sportsmanship and are building their confidence.” The First Tee program continues over the summer at The Highlands with eight-week 90-minute sessions on Thursdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. for boys and girls ages 10-15. That program starts this week. Two separate summer camps for ages 5-9 will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Thursday July 9-12 and July 16-19 also will take place at The Highlands. The cost is $110 and equipment is provided. Scholarships are available. To register, call (434) 987-0165 or visit Source:

Rotella Offering His Services for Good Cause

By Jerry Ratcliffe / The Daily Progress

GOLF NOTES: ROTELLA Offering his services for good cause

Have you ever wondered how cool it would be to sit down with one of the world’s top sports psychologists for a couple of hours and share thoughts on your golf game? Now’s your chance, but let me warn you, it ain’t cheap. For the second time in the past six months, Dr. Bob Rotella is offering his services to anyone who wins a bid that will help The First Tee of the Blue Ridge, the local chapter of the nationwide organization.
First Tee Blue Ridge is linking up with CharityBuzz, featuring a package with Rotella, which includes a two-hour consultation with “Doc,” along with a round of golf and a night’s stay at Farmington. There also is a package that includes golf and lunch for three at three local clubs, Farmington, Keswick and Glenmore. Bidding has already begun and will continue through May 24, with winning bids directly providing funding to First Tee Blue Ridge in support of programming for 5,000 local kids. What an opportunity for serious golfers to have their games analyzed by Rotella, who has worked with virtually every top professional golfer on the planet over the past two decades. If you’re getting out your checkbook, get ready to write a big number. In the previous auction for Rotella’s session, a golfer from Mexico won with a bid of $19,000.
For more information, go to and search for golf auctions (there’s a lot of stuff available nationwide), or contact First Tee Blue Ridge executive director Jin Ellington at (434) 987-0133.

First Tee Links Up with Albemarle Alternative Learning Program

By Josh Mandell / Charlottesville Tomorrow

First Tee Links up with Albemarle alternative learning program

Angelina Hillier said she used to think of golf as an “old-man sport,” and had little desire to try it for herself. But this spring, the Western Albemarle High School junior has enjoyed her weekly visits to the Birdwood Golf Course with the First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge. “[First Tee] turns golf into something that teens can enjoy,” Hillier said.
Enterprise Center @ First Tee (1), April 30 2018
Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Oveyon Ford, a student at the Enterprise Center for Learning and Growth, lines up a putt at a First Tee golf clinic at the Birdwood Golf Course. Also pictured, from left: Renee Willis, Jin Ellington, Angelina Hillier.
  Hillier is participating in the golf clinics with her classmates at the Enterprise Center for Learning and Growth, an alternative learning program for Albemarle County middle and high school students who have struggled in traditional school settings. The Enterprise Center typically serves fewer than 20 students at a time in the Ivy Creek School building on Lambs Lane. Renee Willis, a teacher at the Enterprise Center, said it gives students the opportunity to continue their education in an intimate learning environment, and then return to their base schools when they are back on track. “Many of these students were good at flying under the radar,” Willis said. “Here, you can’t help but to be noticed.” “The Enterprise Center is smaller than a normal school, so there is no drama,” Hillier said. “Everyone is really close, and teachers are very focused on students’ mental health.” The center previously partnered with the First Tee of Charlottesville, a chapter of First Tee that was discontinued after the closure of the McIntire Park golf course in 2015. Jin Ellington, Executive Director of the First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge, said she was excited to revive the partnership this year. “Our mission is to serve all kids, and to increase the impact we can make on kids who might not have access to our resources,” Ellington said. “These are the kids we really have a heart for serving.”
Enterprise Center @ First Tee (2), April 30 2018
Credit: Josh Mandell, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Javonyai Burns prepares to chip at the Birdwood Golf Course.
  First Tee-VBR offers after-school golf lessons and summer camps that are open to all children. However, Ellington said the enrollment of these programs often does not reflect the diversity of Charlottesville’s population. To broaden its reach, First Tee-VBR works with physical education classes at local schools and hosts youth-serving organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia. “We are working with groups that don’t normally have transportation and access to a golf course on a regular basis,” Ellington said. “It’s good to be part of a network of partnerships like this in Charlottesville.” Willis said the Enterprise Center’s First Tee participants have taken a “healthy risk” by coming to the Birdwood Golf Course — a very unfamiliar environment for some of the students. “It is healthy to put yourself in environments you have not been to before and learn how to remain poised and engaged; to be uncomfortable and work through that,” Willis said. Willis said the Enterprise Center often brings students on field trips to introduce them to unfamiliar places in the community and to expose them to different career fields.“When you’re not successful, you often don’t look beyond the little world where you are struggling,” Willis said. “You don’t realize that there is something else out there for you to strive for.” First Tee is a national organization that uses golf to teach core values for life, including honesty, confidence and respect. It also teaches healthy habits to promote physical, emotional and social wellbeing. Bruce Blair, First Tee-VBR’s program director, recently led a team-building game for the Enterprise Center students designed to teach the core value of integrity. Boys and girls separated into teams and passed a suitcase from one person to the next while standing on small rubber mats spaced farther than an arm’s length apart. If someone lost their balance and stepped off their mat, the team had to return the suitcase to the beginning of the line. Students were asked to self-enforce this rule, just as golfers are typically responsible for calling penalties on themselves.“No one is going to call you out,” Blair said. “You only have to worry about yourselves. … Integrity is about doing what is right, even when no one is watching.” Blair said he tries to take a subtle approach to character lessons for teens, and gives them freedom to make their own choices. “These kids don’t like to be preached to,” Blair said. “They already are preached to a lot.” Ellington, who recently completed her first year as executive director, said her vision for First Tee-VBR is to provide academic support and mentorship that will help young people prepare for college and their careers. First Tee-VBR plans to offer a financial literacy lesson from a BB&T employee after the Enterprise Center students finish their golf activities Monday.  “It’s great to teach these core values, but what really matters is the impact we are having on kids’ lives,” Ellington said. “I want a high school student to be able to put First Tee on their résumé as something that transformed and changed their life.” Source:

First Tee hosts First Champions Challenge

By News Staff / CBS 19

First Tee Hosts First Champions Challenge

The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge is helping some area students practice life skills and the game of golf. Twenty Charlottesville and Albemarle County students competed in the Champions Challenge at the Birdwood Golf Course. The students, representing six schools, took part in nine challenges designed to test their gulf skills and life skills. The challenges included the Longest Drive, Closest to the Pin and the Core Value Challenge. This event is based on the National School Program, a partnership between First Tee and elementary schools across Central Virginia. It provides physical education teachers with training, support, curriculum and equipment, worth more than $3,000, at no cost to the schools. The teachers then introduce their students to golf while also teaching motor skills, healthy habits and First Tee’s Nine Core Values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment. During the 2017-2018 academic year, all of the elementary schools in Charlottesville participated in the National School Program partnership, during which the PE teachers taught the First Tee curriculum for three to four weeks as a unit in their classes. The Champions Challenge then gave participating elementary school students the chance to apply all they learned to a competition on the golf course. Students from Walker Upper Elementary School won the title of champion, followed by Johnson in second, and Scottsville and Venable tied for third. First Tee plans to host this challenge event annually, and the organization aims to extend its reach to more schools in Albemarle County and in Greene County. For more information about the National School Program, contact Sarah Pitman at (434) 987-0772 or by email at [email protected]. Source:

First Tee Blue Ridge Making a Difference in Central VA

By Jerry Ratcliffe / The Daily Progress

First Tee Blue Ridge making a difference in Central Virginia

If you would really like to do something for Central Virginia, specifically youngsters that reside in our area, then check out First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge. The organization is on the comeback trail and stronger than ever. A previous First Tee program survived by the skin of its teeth for just over a decade before going under when the City of Charlottesville pulled the plug on funding. First Tee Blue Ridge receives no city or county money. All funding raised remains right here, and is making a major impact with kids. The reorganized group reached approximately 5,000 youth last year, and get this … operates with a four-person staff plus a group of volunteers.

If you’re not familiar with the First Tee program, then you likely jump to the conclusion that it is all about golf. You’re not alone. First Tee uses golf as a platform, but that’s only where it begins. First Tee Blue Ridge’s mission is to teach the nine core values to its students, values such as integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf. Yes, kids are learning the game at the same time, but so much more. Thanks to Farmington Country Club, Birdwood Golf Club and The Highlands practice range in Ruckersville, kids are learning in quality, safe environments and taught by instructors who care about kids.

The program touches youth in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Buckingham, Orange, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Nelson counties and is involved in 11 elementary schools (tied in with the physical education programs), and all six Boys and Girls Clubs in the area. Within the past year, the Charlottesville Police Department has joined forces with First Tee. Sgt. Joey Lewis recruited some kids from Walker Upper Elementary School and picks them up at 3:15 for a van ride to Birdwood.

Along the way, officers and kids strike up conversation and form a relationship before golf and core value training begins at the Birdwood practice range.


If you don’t believe First Tee is making a difference, talk to someone involved in the program as a leader, instructor, or better yet, talk to one of the parents of a kid involved. Some of these kids will become good golfers and perhaps even earn a college scholarship. Others will just enjoy the game through life, and some, eh, may lose interest in golf along the way.

What will be everlasting are the life lessons and core values.


Jin Ellington, the Blue Ridge chapter’s executive director, wants all her First Tee kids to eventually exit the program with what she calls her five C’s: competence, connection, confidence, character and caring. Oh, and a bonus one, contribution, as in giving back to the program and the community. “This is a dream curriculum, one of the best I’ve found,” said Dr. Ellen Markowitz, assistant professor at UVa and the program’s keynote speaker at its annual spring luncheon. Markowitz has traveled the country in a life-long association with sports-based youth development programs, something she is passionate about. She spent 20 years in New York City with an involvement with youth development before coming to Charlottesville. “First Tee makes an incredible difference,” Markowitz said. “I know how hard Jin and everyone in the organization works. Life skills must be taught. It’s not just about putting, chipping and driving. First Tee is one of the best groups in the country teaching these values.”

Ellington wants the First Tee kids to be college ready, career ready and community ready after they go through the program. Notice there was no mention of golf in that mission statement?

What better way to help kids grow in your own community while having fun at the same time? Naturally, none of this comes cheap. Like any group, it requires financial support. If you’re a golfer, the most enjoyable way you can support the group financially is to participate in the organization’s largest fundraising event, its annual golf tournament. The First Tee Invitational will be held July 16 at two locations, Farmington and Keswick Hall’s Full Cry golf courses. If you regularly read this column, then you know that both Farmington and Keswick were recently named among the top five golf courses in the state by the Virginia Golf Ratings Panel’s Top 50. Spaces are limited, so if you’re interested in playing or buying a foursome for your company, contact First Tee pronto. If you don’t play or can’t play, you can become an event sponsor or contributor.


For more information on how you can participate in assisting the tournament or the First Tee organization in general, check out its website:, or contact Ellington at (434) 987-0133.


You’ll be investing in Central Virginia’s future.


2018 Program Vision

This is the script for the speech given by Jin Ellington, Executive Director, at the 3rd annual Spring Luncheon on April 2, 2018. —— Thank you so much Ellen for providing us a framework to better understand how The First Tee, as a sports-based organization, is also first and foremost a youth development organization. Given your expertise in this area, it’s so encouraging to hear that we’re doing it right and that we’re doing it well. I am inspired each day by my board members and staff who have the passion for making a difference in kids’ lives. Our board had the vision 2 years ago to reinstate this chapter of The First Tee in order to continue to provide access and opportunities and to teach life-enhancing values and skills to all youth in this community. Prior to coming to The First Tee, I was involved with an education nonprofit that worked exclusively with Title I middle schools in providing afterschool, extended learning opportunities for low-income students. During my first year, I’ll never forget hearing from an assistant principal that Joshua, one of the tallest, biggest 8th grade boys in the school who also played defense for the school football team and generally had a tough facade, came into her office the Friday before spring break crying. And why was he crying? Joshua was worried for himself and his younger siblings because the breakfast and lunch they received each day at school were the only meals they got and of course, school would be out of session for the next week. That was the defining moment for me. It became crystal clear to me that in order for this young man to even have the remote chance to break out of the poverty cycle, he had to start on a pathway towards success. He had to have the academic skills needed to graduate high school. But that pathway meant more than just passing English and math. He had to be surrounded by caring adults who would serve as mentors to guide him. He had to be able to envision himself in a career he loved doing and most importantly, he had to believe in his ability to accomplish that. The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge exists because we believe that we can transform students’ lives for the better. That we can teach social and emotional skills that are in fact better determinants of students’ success. Based upon research by CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, programs like ours, that specifically teach students how to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships can not only have significant immediate positive effects on students’ behavior and academic performance, but can also lead to lasting changes on important developmental outcomes long after the program has ended. For example, students showed improvement in learning outcomes and academic achievement such as a 6% increase in high school graduation rates and an 11% increase in college graduation rates, Additionally, students were also less likely to ever be arrested, become involved with the juvenile justice system, or become involved with substance abuse. Within the 5 C Framework that Ellen shared, our current programs and curriculum already contribute to the 5 C’s. For example, our Nine Core Values obviously help shape our students’ character and confidence, teaching them responsibility, perseverance, and integrity. Our Nine Healthy Habits with the focus on emotional and social development teach our students how to be empathetic to others, appreciate diversity and meet the “Caring” piece of the framework. The First Tee creates Connections for students by providing fun, engaging afterschool activities both in partnership with youth-serving organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia and exclusively through our classes at the golf courses. Our coaches are caring, passionate people who undergo rigorous training in learning how to not only teach the game of golf but also how to build supportive relationships based on empathy and high positive expectations. They help participants set goals and they inspire them to use valuable skills beyond golf. Just as Joshua needed all the pieces of the puzzle, our challenge now is to figure out how to do a better job in building upon our students’ academic and career-related competencies and how to continue to inspire our students to be leaders and contribute back to society. So in my vision for our program impact we have our own C’s – three of them in fact: to help our participants be college-ready, career-ready, and community ready. Moving forward, we will make even more explicit the connections between the lessons and values learned in golf and how they translate to school. We will help them develop the academic skills needed to graduate high school and then help them understand and navigate the different college pathways available to them. We will provide participants exposure to the multitude of careers out there and support them in developing the skills necessary to be workplace ready. And most importantly, we will create opportunities for participants to take all they’ve gained and to put it into practice through leadership, community service, and giving back. As a mother of two young children, I am blessed enough to say my kids will probably never have to worry about whether there is food on the table or a roof over their heads. Of course as a parent I worry about what college my kids will get into and whether or not they’ll have a successful career. However, when I think back to my own life, my defining moments, and the legacy I want to leave behind. It isn’t the fact that I had a great education  and experience at Duke University or that I’ve dedicated my career to education and youth-based nonprofits and now serve as the Executive Director of The First Tee. It’s instead in the way I treat others. It’s what I do when I make mistakes or when I am faced with challenges. It’s the kind of person and my character that I want to be remembered for. At the end of the day, The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge is here to educate, inspire, and transform the lives of the youth in this area – to help our kids become good golfers but even more so, better people. The youth in this community need you to be engaged and to get involved- I hope you will join us on this journey to make a difference in their lives.

Schilling Show Interview

Jin Ellington, Executive Director, and Bruce Blair, our new Program Director, talk about The First Tee of the Virginia Blue Ridge with Rob Schilling on the Schilling Show. Listen to the interview below at 28:30.