The Appleton Schools Golf Initiative was an experiment: one PE teacher, Lori Leschisin and one PGA professional, Carolyn Barnett-Howe, thought that both parties would benefit from a golf curriculum in the elementary schools. Carolyn, a home-grown product of the Appleton education system, left to play collegiate golf at the University of New Mexico, but returned to the community of her roots when she was in her mid-twenties. Lori, a dynamo PE teacher who needed different ways to fulfill her core teaching requirements: hand-eye coordination, balance, striking, sportsmanship, posture, wanted to give her students a lifetime sport. Eight years later, The Appleton Initiative has grown (with local and national support from the PGA of America and the USGA) to include: five school districts, 40 elementary schools, 6 middle schools, 64 educators, 5,520 hours of professional instruction, 4 golf facilities and over 18,000 children annually who receive golf instruction through their PE curriculums. In total, over $35,000 in equipment has been donated to these schools so that their programming may continue for years to come.
As it became very apparent that the children did indeed enjoy golf and the learning process, Carolyn and her husband, PGA Professional Steve Howe, wanted to build outlets for summer play. One of their first concepts was to connect the children to “their neighborhood golf facilities.” The numbers at local golf courses for junior programs are now on the rise after a decade of stagnant or declining growth. It is not uncommon today to have twenty or even thirty children try out for local golf teams: for both the boys and the girls! This spring, five varsity teams and three individuals advanced to the State tournament from northeast Wisconsin; historically those are record numbers. As well, over 40 young players coming up through the Swing Solutions programming run by PGA professionals Steve and Carolyn Howe, have found homes on collegiate golf teams; four of them have, or are now, moving on to medical school.
Time has passed: that dynamo PE teacher is now a principal and The Appleton Initiative has led to the formation of a not-for-profit junior golf organization named after long-time Appleton educator Bobbie Barnett. The Bobbie Barnett Memorial Foundation is founded on three simple beliefs: community matters, education is the key, and children can learn important life lessons just one swing at a time. While all children are welcomed, special programming under the USGA/LPGA Girls banner has allowed the golf professionals to recognize that sometimes boys and girls learn differently. Today, in a cooperative effort with local golf courses, the Bobbie Barnett Foundation model includes bringing back highly successful players to play and mentor in developmental tournaments with less experienced players. The older players help their younger counterparts with skill development, course management, etiquette, rules and integrity. The students have now become the teachers; they recognize that giving back is important and they know from their own experiences that life lessons may be taught ‘one swing at a time!