Sophomore Isaiah Smith piled out of a car with his Brainerd High School teammates at the Wilcox Driving Center.
He proceeded to hit a golf ball for the first time in his life last week. The lefty made contact. It didn't look like a Phil Mickelson shot.
But that's not the point.
Brainerd High School has a golf team that is providing a handful of students an opportunity to experience a different extracurricular activity than the school has been able to offer in years.
"Most Brainerd students go home and play basketball because they have a basketball rim at home, or they play football because they have a football," sophomore Kadarius Scott said. "But they don't have golf clubs."
Coach Kevin Kauchak is building the teamwith the help of Will Casey, who is an assistant professional at Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club.
It started with a conversation between Kauchak and athletic director Levar Brown, who insisted on adding traditional country club sports to the opportunities available to Brainerd students.
"I went room to room talking to kids I knew [last spring], and my first targets were kids that I knew would act right on a golf course," Kauchak said. "Some kids laughed me off. You know the persona of Brainerd: We're a football, basketball and track team.
"Golf didn't seem like a Brainerd High School sport."
But it is.
The Panthers have two scheduled nine-hole matches: against the McCallie junior varsity team on Aug. 28 and against Central on Sept. 4.
"Golf is predominantly considered a white sport," Kauchak said. "That's why everybody is so surprised that we're having a team. Brainerd has got some good kids and there are a lot of positive things going on, and this is one of them."
The team also has clubs -- not many, but enough for the players to split a huge bucket of balls at Wilcox and batter them around the range in all directions with straight and true being the least common.
"It's like teaching any other beginner in that you start with the grip and stance," Casey said. "I was getting questions about what bogey and par was on the first day.
"My goal is to be able to go out and have them play nine holes in two hours, and we can record some double bogeys, some bogeys and maybe a few pars."
James Ford had the fewest questions of the bunch and has the most experience by a long shot. He has completed three seasons of the First Tee of Chattanooga program and is one of two players who own their own clubs.
"This feels like history," Ford said. "Nobody knows we've got a golf team even now."
Scott, who unintentionally pulled a Bobby Jones impersonation by wearing a necktie on the range, is the only other player with his own clubs. They're hand-me-downs from a late uncle.
The rest of the team shares used clubs donated by the Tennessee Golf Foundation. It started with Kauchak contacting a buddy he grew up with -- PGA Tour winner Scott Stallings. He contacted the TGF and started the ball rolling to getting clubs to Brainerd players.
"I was going over the headquarters [in Franklin] anyway, so I grabbed as much stuff as I could," TGF Chattanooga director Dori Paschall said. "I got enough to make six or seven partial sets. They have a little equipment, but they have other equipment needs."
It is a new experience and exposure to a new sport. Some teachers are asking players about their progress. Some friends think it's cool that they play golf. Some don't.
"You don't see many African=Americans playing the sport, and I'd love to see more interest in it," Brainerd principal Uras Agee said. "If I could have a hockey team, too, I would.
"School is a place where you should be exposed to new things."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...
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