With most of Mount Airy High School’s sports focus now on its football squad’s state playoff run, there’s still room for a new game in Bear Land: disc golf.
A team effort at the campus involving multiple classes, groups and individuals has led to the development of one of the few disc golf courses in this area, which will help accommodate a growing pastime.
“It’s an up-and-coming sport,” said Garrett Howlett, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher at the high school, who played a key role in the project along with students in that program and others.
“In this area, it’s taking off,” Howlett said of disc golf.
The new course at the high school — where a benefit tournament will be held on Dec. 10 to aid a hurricane-ravaged school in Texas — joins two others locally. One is on the grounds of Westwood Park in Mount Airy and the other is at Pilot Mountain.
“There’s no other high school in this area that has a disc golf course,” said Dr. George Sappenfield, an official at Surry Community College who is a pioneer in the sport and helped design the one at Mount Airy High School, of nine holes initially.
Further mirroring the increasing popularity of the activity, a local disc golf club has been formed.
Just as its name implies, the sport is a marriage of golf and the throwing of a plastic gliding implement commonly known as a Frisbee — although enthusiasts of disc golf avoid that term.
“It’s exactly like regular golf except you’re throwing around the discs,” Howlett explained. Instead of using different-sized and shaped golf clubs such as drivers or putters, the newer sport utilizes discs of various sizes which also have the same functions.
“There is a plethora of different types of discs out there,” Howlett said.
As opposed to trying to get a ball into a hole, a disc golf player starts by throwing a “drive” from a tee, gradually leading to “putting” the disc into a cage-like structure mounted on a metal pole with chains that catch that object. The player who completes the course with the fewest number of tosses wins.
“Anybody can play,” Howlett said, adding that the new course at the high school is open to the public.
Price propelled project
That facility did not come about overnight, but involved a long process spearheaded by the Surry County eLink Youth Program that provides training and employment services to students.
Polly Long, longtime eLink coordinator who is based at Mount Airy High School, said the idea was hatched when the late Donald Price, then the school’s athletic director, wanted to refurbish the old Cub Park, an area located behind former junior high facilities.
A disc golf course was one of the proposals, Long recalled.
“It took two years to get it funded,” she said of an effort that paid off with a $4,725 grant from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council. “Not an enormous amount, but it was enough for us to do disc golf.” Long said the course amounts to about a $10,000 facility when man-hours by students and volunteers are calculated.
The services of Dr. Sappenfield, the vice president of corporate and continuing education at SCC, were sought early on in the planning.
“He is a pioneer of disc golf in the world,” Long explained.
Sappenfield designed the first-ever competitive disc course in the Pasadena, California, area in 1969 while involved in a public recreation capacity there. There are now more than 6,000 courses around the world, which are venues for numerous tournaments along with casual play.
“I can’t say enough how lucky we are to have Dr. Sappenfield as a friend,” Long said.
Another important element of the project at Mount Airy High School surrounds students being involved in all phases of its construction — a process that lasted from the start of classes in August to around mid-October.
In planning the course layout and other aspects, Career and Technical Education students were able to sharpen their skills in measurements, sketches, blueprints and others during the work-based learning project.
“So it ties in to the STEM curriculum,” Long said of a recent educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math to help prepare students for jobs in those fields.
“The eLink students actually planned, designed and installed the nine-hole golf course,” Long mentioned regarding the work accomplished under Sappenfield’s supervision. “As a result of this project, students were exposed to real-life, hands-on application of basic skills such as math, science, reading, environmental studies and basic engineering.”
Dr. Sappenfield said Monday that what happened at Mount Airy High reflects a trend of disc golf becoming an educational tool.
“There has actually been a curriculum developed around the whole concept of disc golf,” he said, not just the playing but the aerodynamics, design and other elements involved.
“That’s exciting to me,” Sappenfield said, “the fact that you can tie it in to other parts of education.”
Another group based at the campus complex on North South Street which lent its efforts to making the disc golf course a reality was Creating Successful Learners, composed of about 40 adults with disabilities.
Their input involved walking the grounds with Sappenfield to determine the best spots for holes, which are mostly par-threes and fours.
“You try to incorporate the lay of the land into the design,” Howlett said of the process involved.
The finished facility illustrates the great care used in the hole selection, with the cages, or holes, strategically placed and barely noticeable on a field that also serves as practice space for soccer and other sports that aren’t hampered as a result.
“It’s a good positive use of the environment,” Long said.
She also credits Antonio Reyes, an eLink/CMT student, with playing a significant role in the project, including design work and supervising the Creating Successful Learners group.
“It’s surprising how this has taken on such a large life,” Assistant Principal Kevin Joyce said of how the various partners combined to make the course a reality.
To help introduce the new course, and the sport of disc golf to the community, an inaugural tournament is scheduled for Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. It will include four divisions — beginner, intermediate, advanced and ladies.
A beginners’ clinic is planned at 1 p.m. that day, with discs to be provided to those without.
“We have roughly 40 that we’re going to have on hand, and it’s going to be first-come, first served,” Howlett said.
Along with showing off the new facility to the public, the tournament will aid Hilliard Elementary School in Houston.
Long said that as plans for the disc golf course were taking shape, Hurricane Harvey struck Houston.
“This is one of the schools that were hard-hit by the hurricane,” she said of Hilliard Elementary. “They lost everything and it just broke my heart.”
The tournament will allow a student-based project in one part of the country to help counterparts elsewhere. “This is what’s so exciting — it’s being driven by kids,” Long said.
Participants can sign up for the tournament at a pre-registration cost of $15, which rises to $20 on the day of the event. Pre-registration can be completed at the Mount Airy High School office during normal school hours or by accessing a form available through the city schools’ Facebook or Twitter platforms.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.