Swinging For the Love Of The Game

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Swingers Golf Club’s Bernard Cooper, right, helps sixth-grader Claudia Mendoza with her stance during gym class as the Swingers Golf Club helps introduce the game to the kids at George Washington Carver Academy. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2013 file photo)

A common phrase that is used a lot is “numbers never lie.” Sports and media critics uttered that line a lot during The Masters Tournament in April. The ratings were down significantly for The Masters due to Tiger Woods not participating in the tournament, due to an injury and surgery.

It’s not surprising a majority of sports talking heads are screaming from the rooftops about how golf is suffering without Tiger’s presence in the big tournaments this year. That may be true, this is also true:  golf was here before Tiger, and will be here after Tiger. Woods isn’t the only superstar in this game…he just happens to be the superstar casual fans will flock to their television screens to see.

(My opinion: It would be in Tiger’s best interest to take the entire year off. It isn’t worth trying to come back and re-injuring himself to appease the fans…ahem…the patrons and the media.)

There is something, however, that tends to be ignored: how many of those casual fans have taken up the game of golf since Tiger Woods?  What about the groups, without fanfare, that have worked tirelessly to promote and encourage others to play golf?

One of those groups resides in Waterloo, Iowa, and have quietly taught young children how much fun it is to play golf.

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Tannis Morgan, 11, of Waterloo swing during a putting competition at the annual Swingers Golf Club back-to-school event at Gates Park Golf Course. (Matthew Putney/WCF Courier 2010 file photo)

The Waterloo Swingers Golf Club, Swingers for short, consists of a group of African-American men in Waterloo who play golf and teach the game to young kids, particularly African-American children. Most of the members of the Swingers picked up the sport either when they young, working, or after retiring from their jobs and careers. For a few, they started to take up the game as far back as the 60’s.

Two weeks ago, I participated the 2nd annual Jim Montgomery memorial golf outing to benefit the Swingers’ junior golf program and the National Kidney Foundation. Montgomery was one of those individuals where no matter what happens, he was quick with a smile and something funny to say. As the father of one of my best friends, Travis, Jim and wife Charlene was always there to support Travis and older sister Liz in everything they did. Jim was one of the guys who started the Swingers Golf Club and made the Gates Park Golf Course their home.

In 2012, Jim passed away from kidney disease. His family decided to use his passion, golf, as a source of raising awareness of kidney health and support the Swingers’ junior program.

No, not all of kids in the junior program are going to be playing on the PGA tour and be superstars (it would be awesome if that did happen).The point is giving children an opportunity to learn a sport that isn’t always basketball or football. One young man in particular has become one of the best golfers coming out of the juniors program. Dominick Smith will be starting his senior year at Wartburg next fall, as a member of the men’s golf team.

We have a propensity to measure a game by superstars, social media, ratings, TV executives, and knuckleheads like Skip Bayless. But, do any or all of these factors encourage casual fans to take lessons and try to play golf? How many “Tiger” fans have taken up the sport since 1997?  And no, I’m not counting the inebriated bros on the 18th green hollering “You da man!” as a golfer tees off.

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Calvin Peete

I learned how to play golf in high school, as part of gym class in the early 90’s. Tiger Woods didn’t entice me to pick up the sport. It was Nicklaus, Faldo, Trevino, and a guy named Calvin Peete.

Who’s Calvin Peete?  Peete was the first African-American to play on the tour. Back then, Peete’s journey was a lot harder, amid racism and other factors back then, when it was next to impossible for minorities to play on any golf course, public or private. Casual fans are quick to assume that Woods is a pioneer. Yes and no. Peete and Trevino, for me, are pioneers. Woods enhanced it.

The Swingers Club are more than pioneers. They are teachers and fans of the game. It what makes what they do with the junior program that mean so much and a lasting impression on the children who spend time learning about golf with this special group of men..  

What Is The Hype?

Whole Foods will open their first Iowa store in 2012 in West Des Moines.

On Wednesday, Whole Foods, a popular national organic natural food grocery store chain, announced that they are opening their first Iowa store in West Des Moines.  Similar to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods is a niche grocery chain that is popular everywhere else. But in order to visit those stores, many from the Des Moines metro area have to travel out of state to shop there.

While it’s great and estastic news to those to know that their dream stores are finally coming to Iowa, a light bulb went off in my head last night.

How is it that people go crazy when something new comes to town and I don’t feel the vibe? 

When Trader Joe’s came to town, people were falling all over themselves with glee because a Trader Joe’s is finally coming to Iowa.  When Quinton’s Bar and Deli moved into the old space occupied by the former Grand Piano Bistro Restaurant in East Village, the response was “Oh, the Quinton’s in Iowa City is awesome!  I’m so glad it’s coming here!”

I have never heard of Trader Joe’s or Quinton’s before the news they announced that they were opening here in town.

Seriously, I’m not kidding.  I knew nothing of these places until they came.

I’m a simple guy.  If I need a certain type of food or groceries, I head to the grocery store.  If I want a bite to eat and I’m too lazy to cook, whatever place looks interesting, I’ll try it out.

Quinton's Bar and Deli

But, I’m not going to do backflips (I’m not flexible, plus I’m not 9-years old) over a new store or restaurant because everyone else is.  I’m lucky to travel out-of-state, even if it’s across the Mississippi to Moline to visit my mom.  And even with that in mind, I’m not campaigning for a Whitey’s Ice Cream Shop, or a Mama Nick’s Circle Pizzeria to be built in Des Moines, just for my personal satisfaction.

A store is a store, a bar is a bar, a hardware store is a hardware store…you know what where I’m going with this.

The allure of a new place is all about “the experience”.  The quality and the service will be the barometer if it survives or cease operations.

A Letter to the Mayor of Waterloo

Mayor Clark, you can make this into a positive thing...call Mike Draper and make it happen!

Dear Mayor Buck Clark,

Over the last several days, I have watched with intrigue the controversy over the Waterloo t-shirts that were printed by RAYGUN (all in capital letters) and their owner Mike Draper.  I will disclose that I know most of the staff that works for RAYGUN and they are respectable and fun-loving individuals who love their job and their store.

I find it amusing that out of all of the cities that has had t-shirts printed out for them (Cedar Falls, Davenport, Ames, and Decorah), not one city leader or citizen from these respective cities have publicly voiced their displeasure.  Secondly, the slogans are all in good-natured humor.  I clearly understand your displeasure in it, but don’t you think that there is some truth to it?  Your city (my hometown) has been the center of a recent rash of criminal activity from drug busts to fights.  As a former policeman, you know all of this too well, as much as I do growing up in Waterloo.

Mayor, how will you make this a positive for Waterloo? Call Mike Draper and make it happen!

In my opinion, Waterloo has to do more to show that it’s a good city and is working hard to evolve from a blue-collar industrial town to a progressive community that exudes quality of life.  The CVB does a phenomenal job of promoting Waterloo, but they should not be the only ones to get the word out.  City leaders, business leaders, and the citizens have to help change that, and if most of them don’t, Waterloo will continue to remain “stuck in neutral” as Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Dubuque continue to flourish.

If there was one thing that has come out of this, Waterloo, to me, has to do more in the area of public relations.  Ask anyone who does not live in Waterloo their impression of the city and the response will mirror the slogan that was printed up about Waterloo.  As a native Waterlooian, I can’t help but to agree with it.

It is with this in mind that I feel that the city of Waterloo and you can turn this story into a huge “positive” by submitting a “fun” slogan to RAYGUN and Mr. Draper for them to print up for Waterloo.  By positive, I define it as “catchy”, “funny”, “interesting”, and something that will get everyone’s attention when they think of Waterloo in a cool and positive manner.

My suggestion is “Waterloo:  the home of Nothing Runs Like a Deere” as a homage to Waterloo being home several John Deere operations and as the largest employer in the city.  Or “Sullivan-tough” to honor the Sullivan Brothers.

I’m confident that Mike and his staff would be more than willing to do it as a way to make amends, and in turn, help Waterloo change some of the long-term negative attitudes that has plagued it for nearly 50 years in respects to economic depression, racial strife, and pre-conceived mindsets.

Waterloo is known for the popular Cattle Congress. Why not have fun and "have a cow" with it! Mike is waiting for your call, Buck.

Mayor Clark, please consider my suggestion and encourage the city council and your citizens to offer suggestions to RAYGUN.  Not taking advantage of this would be missing out on a great opportunity to promote the good things that Waterloo is known for.

Until this incident, you may have never heard of RAYGUN and their apparel.  I encourage you to please look at their website at https://raygunsite.com/ and look at the shirts they have done for other cities. They are an example of an upstart local business that has energized Des Moines in so many ways with their commitment to stay “local.”

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.  I really hope you will contact Mike and take advantage of this great opportunity.

Sincerely,

A Waterloo native

There are other reasons than a “Brain Drain”

If I hear "brain drain" one more time, I will do what she's doing above.

Pete Jones, the “brains” behind the locally celebrated popular blog, “Des Moines is Not Boring,” wanted to pull his hair out.  He was interviewed by Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa on Monday about a term that is starting to wear thin on him and on me as well:

“Brain Drain.”

That term is no longer relevant and continues to be used as an excuse to explain the departure of young Iowans after graduating from high school and/or college.  You can call it a “phase,” “migration,” or whatever.  I agree with Pete that “brain drain” should be put to rest.  The smartest and brightest minds are already here in state.  In fact, a sizable number of them have never left.

Maybe young Iowans are not leaving the state for better jobs, better salaries, or to see the world.  For some, it’s for survival and to escape from troubles.

I grew up in Waterloo, which has recently become a hotbed of violence.  Shootings, murders, fights, et cetera.  In the Waterloo African-American community especially, they have seen the endless “drama”and cyclical troubles that have beset their parents, siblings, and other family members.  Substance abuse, selling illegal drugs, poverty, and making bad life choices due to peer pressure.

Downtown Waterloo

It’s not about taking their talents and intelligence out-of-state.  They want a better life than the one they are living. The only way is to get the hell out, even if it means leaving Waterloo and moving to a different town, or leaving Iowa, for their own sanity.

New residents to Iowa leave the large urban areas for a better quality of life for themselves and their families.  For some of my old high school classmates, they wanted to break the chain of falling into the same traps and choices that their family members and friends have made.  Leaving Iowa was a no “brainer.”  There were too many negative influences surrounding them.

When we get together to catch up and talk, all of them say that leaving Iowa was the best decision of their lives.  They miss Waterloo and their families, but they are happy where they are at.

It’s not always about losing the brightest and the smartest.  It’s the only avenue that some need to escape the life and sadness they have grown tired of.

The Crown Jewel of the East Side

Waterloo Courier's headline of East High winning state 20 years ago today.

The headline on the sports page of the Waterloo Courier says East Waterloo won the Class 3-A state title on March 17, 1990.  That was the formality.  But when you ask anyone from Waterloo or who played on that team about what it meant 20 years ago today to win the title, it has a deeper meaning.  East had won a state title previously (1974) and most recently (2003), but the 1990 team stands out.

March 1990 was a special month for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area.  The UNI Panthers beat Iowa in front of the largest crowd in state history, rallied to win 3 games in 3 days to win the AMCU conference tournament, and then shocked Missouri in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.  The Columbus High girls beat powerhouse Cedar Rapids Jefferson to win Class 3-A, and the Waterloo Warriors won the high school hockey title.

East High School

But there was something about the East High Trojans.  That team personified the blue-collar working class east side of Waterloo.  Gritty, tough, willing to fight anyone who got in their way, and talented.  Most of all, they were fun to watch.  High-flying, slam dunks, pumping up the crowd, and tenacity.  No one was going to stop them from their ultimate goal of winning the state title for the first time since 1974.

Their run through the regular season and state tournament did more than bring a title home.  It brought respect, notoriety, and restored pride in a section of town that has been socioeconomically depressed by the dwindling industrial sector (Rath, John Deere, Chamberlain).

Here are a few newspaper clippings of pictures and stories written by Don Kruse from East High’s win over Iowa City High in what was considered one of the best state championship games in state tournament history.

Junior Rodney Wallican going up for a rebound

Misconceptions

Downtown Waterloo

I felt somewhat guilty for missing CIB on Friday, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to head back to my hometown of Waterloo for a few days.  As a volunteer and board member for the American Diabetes Association, I offered to drive home to represent the ADA at the 3rd annual CultureFest at the Waterloo Center for the Arts (or commonly known by the locals as the Rec Center).

It also gave me a chance to visit my grandparents and take my grandpa out for his birthday.

Going home can be refreshing and also melancholy at times.  Many of my Des Moines friends have a misconception about Waterloo, even when I describe to them what it’s like to live there.  It’s a blue-collar industrial town that is seeking a new identity, and trying to hold on to the past.  The past is one of the glory days when Rath Packing Company, Chamberlain, and John Deere was at it’s high point.  The past also has it’s low points with the riots of 1968, the fractious strife between the lower and middle class blue-collar east siders and the upper and middle class white-collar west siders, and the large reduction of the industrial section. John Deere is still strong, but it’s much different today.

Since moving to Des Moines after college in 1998, the transformation of Des Moines from what it was to it’s current state is nothing short but astounding and pleasing.  Meanwhile, it’s a longer process in Waterloo.  There are some talented individuals who are working hard to cultivate the image from a “rough town” to a town with plenty to offer.  There are signs that things are moving forward in Waterloo.  The riverfront on the Cedar River is being developed as the Phelps Youth Pavilion, the Public Market, and other small projects have been created.

However, the mentality for most in my hometown remains stuck in the past.  And frankly, it’s in the way of progress.  Having a fatalistic view of “things will never change” or “I’m happy with the way things are” have become a major factor in young professionals moving out Waterloo after graduating from either high school, Hawkeye Community College, or UNI.

Individuals like Aaron Buzza, Chassidi Ferguson, and others are committed to push and sell Waterloo to new residents and encourage life-long residents to change their attitude and adapt to the future.  Time will tell if the older generation is willing to move away from being stuck in neutral and open up to new possibilities for my hometown.