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School takes a chance on golf

A new program at C.H.A.N.C.E. Alternate School is making academics enjoyable for students.

Pierce Brandon can remember the time he hit a near-perfect golf shot.

It was a par-four hole and he’s usually not big on the driver.

But this time, he hit it on the sweet spot, watched it soar through the air on a perfect line and come to rest on the green.

“It feels like you won the lottery,” he says, allowing just a little smile to appear on his face.

Brandon and many other students at Chilliwack’s C.H.A.N.C.E. Alternate School are in desperate need of something, anything good.

And that’s why a new golf program at the school has been so successful.

“A lot of these guys come from schools that don’t want them, and their view when they get here is like, ‘I’ve already been rejected, so school sucks,’” says C.H.A.N.C.E teacher and program coordinator Mike Beauchene. “This helps change that perspective. It’s belonging. A shirt to wear. A team to connect to and a carrot for them to come to school every day and try hard.”

Things started at the end of March when Beauchene took six students to the Cheam Mountain Golf Course driving range.

They were joined by eight  students from Shxwetetilthet, their Sto:Lo sister school.

“Cheam was able to give us discounted prices and some free lessons on how to hold a club, how to approach a shot,” Beauchene recalls. “They really, really liked it and that was all the fanning of the fire that we needed to do. Their passion just took off.”

Beauchene watched them banging balls 220 yards into the distance, sometimes straight, sometimes left or right.

“I had a blast trying to out-drive these guys, which I didn’t,” he laughs. “We got back and the sense that I got from them is they wanted more.”

A Vedder middle school teacher named Mike Stewart set the school up with clubs and Beauchene started taking the students out twice a week. On Thursdays the group played rounds at Chilliwack’s Kinkora Golf Course.

“The one rule we had to be on the team is respect,” Beauchene says. “It didn’t matter if you shot 62 or 150, we wanted to make sure respect was the key — on the golf course and at school.”

If the students doubted Beauchene’s resolve, the set them straight one week when he revoked golfing privileges.

“We noticed the disrespect becoming systemic and I told them I wasn’t going to bring them out if they were being disrespectful to the other teachers and staff around here,” he explains. “They really turned it around after that, actually became leaders in some of those classes, and we were able to take them back out.”

“We were being idiots, taking it for granted and he put us in our place,” Brandon agrees. “It was good and had to be done.”

For four golfers, weekly practices led to entry in the city-wide school golf tournament, where Brandon, Colt Amey, Matt Harmsen and Nick Davidson faced golfers from Vedder middle school, Chilliwack secondary school and GW Graham.

Each of the C.H.A.N.C.E. golfers walked the course with an opponent from another school, and they finished in a tie for third.

“I was in the first group and I was pretty nervous, but I tried to stay calm and I actually got par on the first three holes,” Brandon says. “Then it started to fall apart and I actually six-putted one hole. But it was a really cool experience.”

Beauchene and co-coaches Colin Willms, Sean McSweeney, Rick Joe,  Hartley Klyne and Michael Lands (the first three from C.H.A.N.C.E. and the latter three from  Shxwetetilthet) walked the course with the students.

“The thing I enjoyed most was seeing the respect our guys gave to the other teams,” Beauchene says. “On just about every shot I heard, ‘Great shot’ or ‘Great putt.’ The camaraderie between the teams was awesome.”

The school year is almost done, but Beauchene says the golf program is here to stay.

Brandon’s happy to hear it.

“I think everyone’s gotten a lot closer than we were before, where things were really cliquey,” he says, talking about the golf program’s effect within the walls of     C.H.A.N.C.E. “I know a couple guys who didn’t like each other worked out their beef on a golf day, and I think we’re becoming a real solid group.”

For Beauchene, proof of success comes in a conversation he had shortly after the city-wide tournament ended.

“One kid was down that entire day, to the point where he had to go off and sit by himself and he told me, ‘I had stuff going on at home, but I was able to play golf for four hours and get my mind off of it,’” Beauchene says. “And I said, ‘That’s what sports is. It’s therapy. It’s just going out, forgetting about everything and hitting a white ball around.”

“For a while your only concern is getting that white ball into that hole,” he continues. “You’re able to release everything else that’s going on.”

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