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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
JULY 9, 2019 – Darrion Marshall has been enjoying the Vic Johnson Junior Golf Clinic.
“It’s fun,” said Darrion, who will be in the fifth grade at Brunson Elementary this year.
“You get to see new people and make friends.”
This is the second year that Darrion has participated. Asked what he likes about golf, he said, “It’s calming and relaxing.”
When Darrion grows up, he wants to be a professional actor. He would like to star in action movies. He would like to be in one like Black Panther.
On Tuesday morning July 9, Darrion was one of about 65 students gathered at the driving range at Reynolds Park Golf Course for another session of the clinic.
This was the 22nd annual clinic that Johnson, who is a former member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education and a retired assistant principal, has sponosred. He started the clinic because he thought that golf had a lot to offer young people. For one, you can continue to play it your whole life.
“I just wanted these kids to have an experience other than football and basketball,” Johnson said. “This is giving the kids an edge.”
After saying that last year’s clinic would be the last one, Johnson said, he changed his mind. Lots of people urged him to do it one more time.
So he did.
Johnson started the clinic about the time he joined the school board. He puts on the clinic with help from a dedicated group of coaches and other volunteers, people from Winston-Salem Recreation & Parks Department, and his wife, Constance Johnson, who was a professor at Winston-Salem State University before she retired.
The majority of the students participating in the golf clinic this year come from W.R. Anderson Jr. Community Center, which is just across the road from the golf course. Others participate in programs at other recreation centers or their parents bring them each day.
This is the first year that Flower Staley, who will be in the second grade at Whitaker Elementary, has participated, and she has been having big fun.
“I like to make good shots,” Flower said.
It’s hard to make good shots, she said, “But I can do it.”
She has been having so much fun, in fact, that she has decided she wants to become a professional golfer one day.
That called for taking her over to where Johnson was sitting, so she could have her picture made with him. Once she’s famous, Johnson can pull it out and show everyone where it all started.
Jayda Woodyard, who is 12, has been coming to the clinic every summer since she was 8.
“It’s fun to learn new things,” said Jayda, who will be in the seventh grade at Clemmons Middle.
At the moment, she is thinking about becoming a lawyer one day.
DeMarcus Mashack, who will be in the seventh grade at Northwest Middle, would like to become a professional basketball player one day. He likes golf so much that, if that doesn’t work out, he can imagine becoming a professional golfer.
What does he like about golf?
“One,” he said, “I get to have fun. Two, it’s great learning.”
Nicholas Davis is going to be in the first grade at Smith Farm Elementary. He already liked such sports as football and has been enjoying adding another sport to the list.
When he grows up, he wants to be a real superhero like Black Panther. If that works out, perhaps he can give some acting tips to Dorrian.
Isaiah Richardson also goes to Smith Farm. He will be in the second grade, and this was the second summer he had participated in the clinic.
“Golf has always been my favorite sport,” Isaiah said. “My granddad was a golfer.”
When he grows up, he wants to become a scientist who expands the world of knowledge through experiments.
This year, 10 men are serving as coaches for the clinic. Many of them have been volunteering for a number of years. Gene Williams has been coaching at the clinic for 15 years.
“I love kids,” he said.
Williams enjoys working with young people so much that he also coached Little League baseball for 28 years.
His goal at the golf clinic is to teach them about love and understanding. Golf helps them learn that while using their minds and bodies at the same time.
Williams entered the world of golf when he was 8. That’s how old he was when he started caddying at the Reynolds Park Golf Course. Now 80, he still plays two or three times a week. He usually shoots in the mid-70s.
Another one of the coaches is Malcolm Gant, who participated in the clinic for the first time when he was 10. He kept coming back and became a coach while he was still a student at Parkland High School.
At the clinic last year, he was thinking about going into the Air Force.
“I changed my mind,” said Gant, who is now 20.
He decided to stick around. He is working for FedEx and focusing on his golf. The sky is still calling to him, though.
“I’m getting ready to be a pilot,” Gant said.
He plans to take flying lessons at Smith Reynolds Airport.
Hiawatha Bethea, who has been volunteering with the clinic for 12 years, coached Gant that first year he participated.
“Now look at him,” Bethea said. “I wish there were more like him.”
For Bethea, the skills that young people learn playing golf serve them well in school.
Plus, he really likes seeing look of joy that crosses their faces the first time they hit the ball well.
Bethea may play golf four times a week. Some days he shoots par, and, yes, he has made a hole in one – three in fact. All three were on the fourth hole – a Par 3 – at Winston Lake Golf Course.
Bethea’s brother, Robert Bethea, who was the head golf coach at Winston-Salem State University at one time, has coached with the clinic for 14 years.
He, too, enjoys watching young people grow and develop over the years.
“It’s a good program,” Robert Bethea said. “I wish we could bring more kids.”
The clinic also has a first-time coach time this year.
Hiawatha Bethea recruited Leon Shuff to become a coach. He was happy to participate.
Golf has been valuable to him, Shuff said. “I learned to control myself and have fun.”
And he likes being able to pass along some of what the game has taught him to young people.
After retiring from a career as a police detective in New York, Joel Maul moved this way and took up golf. Others – including several of the clinic coaches – helped him with his game over the years, and he likes being able to pass along that gift to the young people.
Maul has now been volunteering with the clinic for seven years. For him, coaching golf is a good way to help young people learn about integrity and honesty.
Coach William Monk brought his son, Sirod, with him to the clinic. Sirod will be in the third grade at Griffith Elementary. People have given much to him over the years, Monk said, and coaching at the clinic is one of the ways he passes it on.
Growing up, Luther Miller got a lot of support from people in the city’s parks and recreation system, and coaching at the clinic is a way to help the young people growing up today.
“I know kids need to be socialized,” Miller said. “Golf is a tremendous tool to socialize kids.”
Coach John Torian feels as if he grew up on golf courses, and he wants to expose young people to that world.
“I love everything that golf brings,” he said.
It provides good fellowship, builds character, and you can play when you are young or when you are 100.
On the final day of the clinic, there’s a celebration, and students receive trophies. At the celebration this Friday, one of the students will receive a special award named after Sam Puryear Sr., one of Johnson’s coaches and mentors.
Last year, the winner was DeMarcus Mashack. This year, the award will go to Darrion Marshall. Don’t say anything to him, though, it’s a surprise.
The coaches participating in the clinic are: