The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in health protocols that have limited youth clinic attendance in June of the past two years at the private golf club.
“We had to cut back but we never stopped showing these kids how precious they are to us,” said foundation president Linda Wilder-Bryan, also an alderwoman for District 3 on the Savannah City Council. “The way we do that is we connect with them spiritually, holistically.”
The LB4 & After Foundation is a local non-profit organization for community programming and advocacy which was formed by the parents of Lawrence Bryan IV, who was assassinated on August 7, 2015. The foundation organizes events such as giveaways of food, school supplies and personal care products as well as new bikes for children .
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The focus is on kids setting goals and developing a strategy to achieve them — what she calls a to-do list.
“We want them to understand that we’re going to make things happen for them if they want to stay connected and stay on track,” Wilder-Bryan said. “Get that bucket list, that strategy, so they can really be the best they can be for the whole world to see.”
It was that last rhyming line that she had a group of kids sing in response during a March 18 announcement at the WW Law Community Center.
“I want to be the best I can be so the whole world can see it,” repeated the children’s audience after explaining the concept.
Wilder-Bryan and her husband, Foundation Vice President Lawrence Bryan III, announced a new grassroots golf program for ages 7 to 18 based at the community center. He created a summer program with the cooperation of host Savannah Golf Club, where he tended the bar for many years, in what he called “a win-win situation”.
In the summer, they bring kids to the golf course from community and recreation centers such as WW Law, Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, John S. Delaware Regional Center, and CB Grant Neighborhood Center.
Now they’re bringing golf to the kids’ quarters with equipment donated by the golf community, including the Savannah Golf Club.
“In our golf program, we welcome kids who have never touched a golf club or been on a golf course,” Bryan said, noting that volunteer instructors such as head golf pro Alex Messinger and club members Doug Giorgio and Tony Center start early.
“(Giorgio) teaches them the basics of golf, sportsmanship, that it’s a gentleman’s game, safety,” Bryan said. “He explains everything to them before they even go to a golf course.”
A retired dentist, Giorgio said he wants new golfers to have fun and know it can be a lifetime activity.
“You might be good at basketball. You might be good at football. But when you’re my age, you don’t play that. You can play golf,” said Giorgio, 78, who also insists on route safety.
No running on the golf course
Center, a lawyer and foundation board member, says teaching golf has been a lot of fun.
“I have to tell them you don’t run golf because kids like to run,” Center, 72, said with a laugh. “Slow down, don’t run with the club in your hand. It’s not a speed game.
“They have a lot of energy. They’re frustrated like us. I think they appreciate the fact that someone is trying to encourage them to do something that they haven’t done,” he added. . “They don’t see any impediment to playing golf that their parents saw.”
Bryan also took advantage of the March 18 announcement to educate children about the Savannah civil rights pioneer whose center is named.
“WW Law was a fearless leader in Savannah,” Bryan said. “He fought so hard. I wanted to give them a history lesson about it first.”
Another sport to practice
There will be golf lessons coming up, and Virgil Cooper, recreation supervisor at the community center, thinks the kids will get into the sport. The center already offers basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field.
“Kids do what they see. When I used to come with my friends, we played certain sports,” said the Savannah native, who grew up playing baseball, basketball and football, and played quarterback- back and launched at Savannah High School. “We try to get the kids interested in something other than basketball and football. I hope they get interested in golf.”
Cooper, now 54, was a good enough right-handed pitcher to be selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round of the June 1987 MLB Entry Draft from Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas. He pitched in the minor leagues for the White Sox organization.
His talent level isn’t quite there with golf, which he only started playing in April 2021 after traveling with the kids to Lawrence Bryan’s summer golf camps. He was asked how his round of golf was going.
“It’s okay. It’s tough but it’s okay. I don’t lose as many balls as I used to,” said Cooper, who brings 30-40 balls when playing 18 holes at local public courses and finishes with “between 10 and 20.”
“Now over time I don’t lose so many. I keep them in the fairway more now,” Cooper said. “I am a work in progress.”
Bringing golf programs to young people is also a work in progress, as WW Law has been added to the existing program at the Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club, with the Pennsylvania Avenue Resource Center following, Wilder-Bryan said.
The Bryans look forward to each community center building a team with names like “Strategy” (WW Law) and “Perseverance” (Callen). The Big Picture helps young people navigate life, for example by creating opportunities they might not otherwise have considered, such as using golf to pursue a college education.
“Here’s another stream,” Wilder-Bryan said. “You don’t have to just play basketball. They also give golf scholarships. We want to introduce our kids to all the opportunities they can take if they want to go to (college). That’s another part, another way to go to school.”
Nathan Dominitz is the sports content editor for Savannah Morning News and savannahnow.com. Email him at [email protected] Twitter: @NathanDominitz