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goal setting and volunteering.”

when I left school without my degree she stayed

coaching younger golfers. “To see the spark in

in contact with me in Alabama and encouraged

their eyes when they hit the ball in the hole is

75,000 youth, ages 5 to 18. In 2013 it served

me to get back in school. I returned to the U of

just beautiful,” says Marissa. Will she keep golfing

340 youngsters in spring, summer and fall

M in 2005. Dr. Lyons cried when I came back to

now that she’s in college? “There are blind

programming and another 15,000 through its

get my degree and she cried again in 2007 as I

people who play golf,” she laughs, “so I’m pretty

National School Program and other community

walked across the FedExForum stage.

sure I will.”

Since 1999, First Tee has served more than

outreach initiatives. Since 2012, participants

“Dr. Acey helped build me into the socially

have attended a number of national events,

responsible man I am today, always stretching

clinic, makes young people become “more

highlighted by Malik Luckett playing in the Nature

me to do more and be more, never giving up

coachable,” says Hawkins.

Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, Calif., and

on me. He held me accountable not only for

Andy Chung and Grant Hill attending the Life

my actions, but for the actions of everyone in

the ball to fall in the hole, but more distance

Skills and Leadership Academy.

my inner circle. Dr. Acey taught me that I am my

control – make it stop between two ropes that

brother’s keeper.”

have been laid out on the grass. Most of the first

While helping young people, The First Tee also benefits the community. “We are building

When Hawkins took over at The First Tee,

Teaching younger kids, as with the putting

The goal of today’s lesson is not to get

strikes overshoot the mark by a wide margin; by

the next generation of leaders for the city of

he set three goals: rebuild the programming

the third or fourth attempt most of the future

Memphis,” Hawkins explains. “We have one

into something kids would enjoy; take youth

Tiger Woods land the ball between the ropes. All

of the most diverse programs in Memphis.

to national First Tee events; and improve his

the while, the mentors pepper them with words

We bring youth together from all segments of

own golf game. “I’m happy to report we have

of encouragement.

Memphis society and walks of life and build

accomplished all three of them,” he says, “but

great youth leaders by teaching our nine healthy

my golf skills are needing more work.”

habits. We have a 100-percent high school graduation rate over the last three years.” Forty percent of First Tee youth get help with

One student learning to set his own goals

donated by individuals and corporations – are

people, and I like that we get to play other First

provided for those who need them. “We teach

Tee teams,” says Boris, who wears a crisp blue-

some of our upper-level kids to build clubs,”

and-white striped First Tee golf shirt. Myles Rivers, a senior at Ridgeway High

Three participants have been selected as

School, has been part of First Tee for 10 years.

First Tee Scholars at Cornell University, Lipscomb

“It’s helped me persevere and learn life skills,”

University and the University of Tennessee

he says. “If I didn’t have First Tee I’d probably be

Knoxville. In fact, Golf Digest has ranked

playing basketball and getting into trouble. They

Memphis as the top municipality for its positive

tie in life skills while you get experience. Life

impact on junior golfers.

gets frustrating at times, but you can’t hang onto

“The lifelong friends from Memphis State football

something negative.” Marissa Buford, 18, a freshman at Christian

have been an amazing part of my life. Living in

Brothers University, has been coming to First

South Hall, the old athletics dorm, helped me

Tee since she was 11. “It’s taught me respect

to grow into a man and build relationships with

for the world around us, for things and for our

athletes other than football players. We had

surroundings,” says the computer engineering

some major victories in football during my years

major, who earned $25,000 in scholarships.

– Alabama, USC and Florida to name a few.”

“Plus it keeps me calm and collected.” A bad

He credits Dr. Bonita Lyons and Dr. David

shot “is enough to break a golfer’s heart,”

Acey as important influences. “Dr. Lyons always

Marissa says, “but as long as you keep a clear

encouraged me to reach for the stars. Even

mind, you’ll make every shot better.” She enjoys


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competitive.” They are, they do, and they will be.

Colonial Middle School and a three-year veteran of First Tee. “I like that we get to meet new

Hawkins himself has been inspired by sports.

Most of them know: “Be safe. Have fun. Be

is Boris Combest, an 11-year-old who attends

paying their fees. Golf shoes, bags and clubs –

Hawkins adds.

“What are our three rules?” they’re asked.

Myles Rivers helps Nyia Hawkins line up a putt during a First Tee golf lesson in July.


Profile for University of Memphis


University of Memphis Fall Magazine


University of Memphis Fall Magazine