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Golfers get more than they give in work with inner-city kids

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When Bethel College golf coach Gregg Dick considered team-building activities leading into a new season, he wanted it to be about more than just the team itself.

So in early August, Dick and seven of his golfers spent several days at Kids Across America, a camp along Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri. KAA is a Christian sports camp for inner city children and youth – around 6,300 come to the organization’s facilities in Missouri each summer from nearly 500 cities across the United States.

“There are about 750 kids at camp each week,” Dick said. “Some of them choose golf as a sport they want to focus on, but the staff want all of them to be at least introduced to the game of golf.” Dick and the seven students worked with some of the introductory sessions and also helped with the campers who had chosen golf as one of their sports for the week, helping them learn how to swing and hit a golf ball.

“There were 35 kids signed up for golf [the week we were there], so the staff were very grateful to have us,” Dick said. With the extra volunteers, the children were able to hit more balls and get more personal attention. “They get pretty excited when they see they can actually do it,” Dick added.

Golf lessons at Kids Across America are given at the Payne Stewart Memorial Golf Complex, built with donations from Stewart’s family and other professional golfers. Stewart was a Missouri native and professional golfer who died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 42.

Dick learned about Kids Across America from Nick Anneler, who was at Bethel last year as a residence director and assistant golf coach. Anneler has worked for several years with Kanakuk Kamps, a Christian camping organization that is the “parent” of Kids Across America. In addition, the director of the golf program at Kids Across America, Mark Perry, came to Bethel last spring to lead the worship service before a Sunday morning Bethel-hosted golf tournament at Sand Creek Station. Dick hopes to bring Perry to Kansas for the tournament again next spring.

“I visited Kids Across America earlier in the summer, to see if it was something I wanted to do with the team, and decided it was,” Dick said. “I thought it would be good to get them out and introduce them to working with kids from the inner city, not a group they’re used to being with.

“It was really rewarding to see the kids get so excited when they were able to hit the ball and see it fly in the air, and the way they thanked us,” Dick said. There were some humorous moments, too, such as when Scott Sasser, one of the Bethel students, asked a girl if she had ever heard of Tiger Woods. “What?” she exclaimed in horror. “There are tigers in the woods?”

“A lot of times, you learn more about yourself and how you play by teaching others [than by playing],” Dick added. “And we did some team-building things, like tubing on Table Rock Lake, doing the ‘trees course’ [ropes course] at the camp and playing some golf in Branson on the weekend. It was a good way for the four new players to get to know some of the others on the team.”

The golfers who went on the trip were first-time freshmen Nathan Stucky, Newton, and Zach Frey, Goessel, and transfers Matt Hein, Topeka, and Scott Sasser, Derby, plus seniors Chris and Nick Alexander, Meade, and Braden Dragomir, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

“On the way home in the van, the guys were talking about their experience at camp and someone said: ‘This really connects into what Bethel is all about,’” Dick said. “I knew it would be a good experience but it turned out to be even better than I thought.”

“I had a wonderful time at the Kids Across America camp,” said Hein. “It really did a lot for my moral character to be able to interact with kids from different cities, races and cultures. To be able to bring that many kids from various cities and backgrounds together in a Christian atmosphere is truly a testament to the counselors and the overall setup of the camp. It was a tremendous experience that I would definitely like to participate in again.”

“I hope we can do it again,” Dick said, “and this time go earlier in the summer and stay longer.”

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Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” every year since 1998. In sports, Bethel is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC). For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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