By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
The Vic Johnson Junior Golf Clinic is about teaching young people how to hit the ball straighter and farther, yes. It’s also about helping them learn lessons that will serve them throughout their lives. It’s about seeing the value of paying attention and focusing and about understanding the importance of treating yourself and others with respect.
As the students took turns driving balls off the tees at the driving range at Reynolds Park Golf Course, they readily absorbed the lessons that the experience offered.
“You have to focus to do stuff, and you have to listen and follow directions,” said Kaleel Lindsay, who will be in the eighth grade at Jefferson Middle School.
“It teaches you discipline and respect,” said Zhyki Adkins, who will be in the fifth grade at Ibraham Elementary School.
Johnnson, who is a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and a retired assistant principal, started the clinic in 1997, and Hiawatha Bethea has been coaching for the past six years. He loves kids and he loves golf, he said. “I wanted to give back.”
Golf taught him a lot about life, Bethea said. “You learn how to conduct yourself and how to treat people.”
“Golf is about life,” said Joel Maul, another coach. “I’m a retired New York City cop, and I want to see kids do better and give them some guidance.”
“Golf can take these kids a long way,” said coach John Torian, whose son Jeremiah is headed to first grade at Sedge Garden Elementary School.
The 106 students in the program came from 28 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools, as well as a few private and charter schools. All this learning about life was fine with them because they were having a grand time. “It’s fun,” Kaleel said. “I like to be out here every week and try and hit the ball farther and farther.”
Teriana Jones, who will be in eighth grade at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, said golf was a satisfying change from her regular sport – basketball. “I like this because it’s more relaxing,” she said.
This year’s clinic started June 18 and met two mornings a week – Tuesday and Thursday most weeks – through last week. Beverly Emory, who became the school system’s superintendent on July 1, and Carol Montague-Davis, the assistant superintendent for secondary schools, dropped by for the closing celebration. After they ate their celebratory hot dogs, Emory talked with the students about how important it is to be one of those people who walk the talk – that is who get out there and take positive action rather than just talking about it – and about how Johnson is one of those people.
Growing up, Vic Johnson caddied at Old Town Country Club. During that time, he made valuable connections with people who worked at such companies as Reynolds Tobacco Co. “When we got too old to caddy, they gave us jobs as Reynolds,” he said.
And when he became too old to play such sports as football, golf became a way to continue playing a sport. Johnson started the annual clinic because he thought that golf had a lot to offer young people. His wife, Dr. Constance Johnson, who was a professor at Winston-Salem State University before she retired, helps him run it along with volunteers, people from Winston-Salem Recreation & Parks Department and a dedicated group of coaches. Other coaches recognized during the celebration were Robert Bethea (Hiawatha Bethea’s brother), Roger McIlwain, Luther Miller, Harry Transou and Victor Watts.
The hot dogs were grilled by Harden “Butch” Wheeler, who taught at such schools as Kernersville and Hill middle schools before retiring. In the early days of the clinic, he was a coach. He joked that Johnson decided that he could better serve the clinic by grilling hot dogs.
“I didn’t start playing golf until I was 45, and I wish I had had something like this,” he said.