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Champions Challenge scores big with kids, educators, parents

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By Elsa Bonstein
and Mike Gildea

At noon Oct. 17, Bolivia Elementary School emerged as the winner of the second annual Champions Challenge at Cinghiale Creek, home of the First Tee of Brunswick County.  
Team members included Ari Bonello, Isaak McKenney, Miguel Morales, Pierce Quinn, Bender Sanderson, Christian Shelton, Ralph Stephenson, Rebekah Gibby, Kayla McDuffie, Katlyn Moore, Linzey Poe, Jazmine Spies and Brooke Sullivan.
Officially called The First Tee National Schools Program Champions Challenge, the event brings together teams of fourth-graders from all Brunswick County elementary schools for a contest of golf and life skills. Student teams (seven boys and seven girls) were selected according to grades, knowledge of the core values of The First Tee and golf skills.
The National Schools Program (NSP) is based on nationwide physical education standards and emphasizes character building through the game of golf and The First Tee Nine Core Values. About 6,000 students in Brunswick County schools participate in NSP through their physical education classes.   
Champions Challenge is one of the largest, one-day athletic events for elementary schools in the region.
Students competed at nine stations: long drive, downhill putt, obstacle putt, target chip, bunker chip, up and down, goal post hit, driving accuracy and zigzag run. Students used Starting New at Golf equipment.  
Second place went to Southport Elementary School. Supply Elementary School was third.
In the girls’ individual completion, Gracie Griffin (Waccamaw) took first place, Kayla McDuffie (Bolivia) was second and Raven Lesane (Charter Day) was third.
In the boys’ division, Pierce Quinn of Bolivia finished first. Chevy Ward of Waccamaw was second and Gabriel Owens of Virginia Williamson was third.
Sen. Bill Rabon was enthusiastic about the event.
“It’s amazing to see all these students cheering for each other, shaking hands, enjoying the competition,” he said. “The First Tee is a wonderful grassroots organization with lots of local volunteers.”
Sue Parson, associate director of Central Atlantic Region for The First Tee, traveled from The First Tee headquarters in St. Augustine, Fla., to observe the Champions Challenge.    
“This is the most wonderful event held by any chapter in our region,” she said. “Kids, parents, volunteers all come together for a great day. The students are learning the core values that we teach, values like respect and sportsmanship and perseverance. You can see it in their behavior.”       
Bagpiper Kevin Mulholland piped in the teams for the opening ceremonies. After the introduction of visiting dignitaries and team coaches, Terry Mauney, the program director of The First Tee, led a rousing cheer that incorporated The First Tee Nine Core Values.
To begin the competition, Zachary Caisson, a student from Virginia Williamson Elementary School, hit the first ball. Gasps of surprised laughter were heard when the golf ball exploded into dust.
As she watched the students in the zigzag run, Shirley Babson, chairwoman of the board of education said, “This is possible because of wonderful teamwork between The First Tee and Brunswick County schools. What we teach our students will have far-reaching consequences as they move into adulthood and have families and responsibilities of their own. Imagine these children as adults who practice responsibility, honesty, courtesy and the other core values.”
Family members came to cheer for the teams. Nathan and Wilhelmina Fluellen Sr., watched their daughter Chloe Rosie compete for Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary School.
“It’s great for the kids to experience something like this,” Nathan Fluellen said. “Chloe Rosie has been excited about this for weeks. All the kids have been looking forward to this day.”
Helen Davis, director of elementary education for Brunswick County Schools, said, “I love this program. It gives students opportunities that they might not normally have. It treats all of our students equally.”
Rusty Petrea, co-founder with wife Carol of The First Tee of Brunswick County, said, “This is the biggest day of the year for us. It showcases the excellent cooperation between the schools and The First Tee, and it gives all of our 100-plus volunteers a chance to see the results of their hard work.”
Members of the second-place team from Southport were Hunter Adkins, Adrian Avalos, Roam Dilgard, Noah Huntley, Chase Koonce, Clay Koonce, Jack Kimball, Olivia Cunningham, May Peyton Moffit, Carolina Morales, Cambria Oldham, Moholan Parker, Carolina Richardson and Alondra Villagran Duran.
The third-place team from Supply were Bobby Atkinson, David Blanchard, Chase Crabtree, Zachary Fowler, Cullen Long, Christopher Tayloy, Michael Vasquez, Lacey Clemmons, Madison Clemmons, Talandria Core, Brittney Holden, Jacqueline Hubbard, Anjanae McNeil and Kinsley York.      
All competitors received a shirt, hat and bag tag, plus lunch and snack. Just before the closing ceremonies, CrossFit of Ocean Isle Beach taught stretching exercises to the students.