NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A highlight for the Bethel College golf team, players and coach alike, has nothing to do with low scores, pristine greens or picture-perfect putts.
Instead, it’s the annual service trip to Kids Across America (KAA), a Christian sports camp for inner-city youth on Table Rock Lake in southwestern Missouri. Around 6,300 campers come to KAA each summer from nearly 500 cities across the United States.
KAA golf instruction takes place at the Payne Stewart Memorial Golf Complex, funded through gifts of Payne Stewart’s family and other professional golfers to honor the 1991 and 1999 U.S. Open champion and Missouri native, who died in a plane crash in 1999.
Golf is a sport that builds on character qualities KAA seeks to instill in its campers, Dick says. During their time at KAA, every child has a chance to participate in the programs at the golf facility – either as a “specialty” (choosing golf as an activity to concentrate on during the week, spending a couple hours each morning on the sport) or as a brief introduction during an afternoon or evening.
Five players and Coach Gregg Dick spent June 10-14 at KAA. Two players – senior Justin Regehr and sophomore Abram Rodenberg, both from Halstead – went to KAA for the first time. Cameron Voth, junior from Goessel, and Jordan Esau, junior from Hutchinson, were on their second service trip. For Zach Frey, senior from Goessel, it was the fourth year in a row at KAA.
“I think that the real reason we are there is not just to teach them to golf, but to be their mentors and friends,” Frey says. “A lot of these kids may not have someone in their life they can come to for help or just to talk to, and that is what we provide.
“It has been an amazing four years, going back to KAA,” he continues. “One thing I always pick up from camp when we leave is that God blessed our team with the ability to play and teach golf and be leaders to these kids. Seeing them smile and have a good time really makes the trip worthwhile.”
“It’s great to see the smiles on kids’ faces when they realize they can do it,” adds Dick. “We hope this helps them realize in some way that they can do whatever they put their mind to in life as well. If they can hit a golf ball after thinking there is no way, then maybe that will translate to other areas of their life as well.”
Dick recalled a boy named Kevin who was “having a bad day. He came to Justin and Jordan and was pretty grumpy, but after talking with them and hitting balls for about five minutes, he had a huge smile on his face. Another boy who had been in trouble earlier in the day went to Cameron, who also just talked with him and encouraged him while he was on the range hitting. His last shot was a beautiful straight shot way out on the range, which also brought a huge smile to his face, a big high five for Cameron and another one for me as he left the range. Sometimes all they need is someone to talk to and show them some love and encouragement.”
“Something that I thought is that a majority of those kids will not remember much that we taught them, although hopefully some of the specialty kids will,” says Regehr, “but they [maybe] will remember us talking to them and us being interested in what they had to say. Then that Kevin kid hitting that 340 yard drive – not really, but it’s nice he thought that – that only [Jordan and I] witnessed. [KAA was] a great experience, for sure.”
“I enjoy talking with the kids about their own life, whether it be sports, friends, school or family,” says Esau. “Once you start showing that you care about how their life is going, they really start to perk up, which I think is great. As always, seeing somebody’s face light up when the ball actually gets hit and sometimes [goes] off the ground is neat to see.”
“KAA is really a ‘new day’ for all the kids that come here,” Dick says. “As we meet and talk to them, find out what weighs on their hearts and minds, where they are from and what interests them, it is easy to see how KAA can be a new day for each of them. It gives them a new perspective on life and opens up their hearts to new things, new ideas and the knowledge that Christ loves them and that others love them.
“What a great feeling as a coach to watch your players greet these kids, connect with them and then help them do what they didn’t think was possible and hit a golf ball,” he continues. “There are just so many life lessons that can be learned from the game of golf and many of these kids do a great job picking some of these up in a short amount of time.”
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges profiled in Colleges of Distinction 2009-10. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.