Retired coach bringing golf, character education to kids

  • Wednesday, April 10, 2013

  • Updated Monday, September 23, 2013 10:55 am

Chris Sokoloski/Times
Kensington Elementary School students play a combination of golf and baseball at Wedgefield on Tuesday as part of the First Tee program. Waccamaw Intermediate students participate on Thursdays at Tradition.

By Chris Sokoloski
csokoloski@gtowntimes.com

Tommy Gaither retired two years ago after 20 years with the Georgetown County School District, but that doesn’t mean his commitment to children has ended.
Gaither, a former college and high school basketball coach, is now helping the First Tee of the Grand Strand expand its programs in Georgetown and Horry counties.
“This was right down my alley because I’ve been working with kids all my life, and I’m interested in character education,” Gaither said. “First Tee is all about a character focused curriculum based on activities through golf.”
Georgetown County is one of only four areas in the country that offer the First Tee program during the school day. The majority of programs are done after school and on weekends.
Dr. Randy Dozier, superintendent of Georgetown County schools, recruited Gaither.
“Dr. Dozier has seen the value of the First Tee program of what it can do for children,” Gaither said. “He sees the value that it brings as far as character education.”
The goal of First Tee is to introduce children to golf and use the sport to “build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices.”
The organization’s nine core values are: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
“Kids today need this program of character-based education,” Gaither said.
Once a week, every fourth-grader in the county is transported to either Wedgefield Plantation in Georgetown or Tradition Club in Pawleys Island for a First Tee lesson.
Each lesson revolves around one of the nine core values.
The key to the success of the program is volunteer coaches, Gaither said, and he’s always looking for more.
“They are the backbone of our organization,” he said. “We do everything through volunteers.”
Volunteers work as much or as little as their schedules allows. In-school programs are 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays at Wedgefield and Thursdays at Tradition. There are also after-school and Saturday morning programs.
In September, this year’s fourth-graders will continue in the program as fifth-graders, and a new crop of fourth-graders will start.
And that means more volunteers will be needed.
First Tee has also helped fund the SNAG – Starting New at Golf – program in county schools. SNAG uses plastic clubs that are suitable for indoor use during phys ed classes in the winter.
This school year’s First Tee program wraps up with a Champions Challenge tournament at Wedgefield on May 23.
Teachers at the 10 participating schools will choose seven boys and seven girls to compete in 10 challenges. Individual and team trophies will be awarded at the end of the tournament.
“We think kids need these character traits and … we think golf is a great avenue,” Gaither said. “It’s a fun game.”

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First Tee of the Grand Strand is hosting its only fundraiser, a golf tournament, on July 31 at Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in Pawleys Island.
The tournament is open to 32 teams, and about half the spots have been taken already.
The night before the tournament there will be a dinner at The Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach hosted by Charlie Rymer and Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel.

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For more information on becoming a First Tee volunteer, making a donation, or signing up for the golf tournament, contact Gaither at tgaither@sc.rr.com or 843-833-2999.
To find out more about the program, go to www.thefirstteethegrandstrand.org or www.thefirsttee.org.

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