Michael Budd stepped onto the golf course for his first high school match last year. He was excited and nervous. More than anything, he didn't want people to make fun of him. "Coach, what are the rules," Budd asked as he approached the first tee.
"Don't worry about it," head coach Jerry Smith responded. "Just go play."
Smith resurrected the Vance golf team last year.
Budd and Tristen Johnson, who at the time were sophomores, had never played the game before.
They made it through the first match and their games have been improving along the way. They have turned some heads, too.
"I have parents come up to me all the time and ask if I am the Vance coach," Smith said. "They just want to say how well-behaved my kids are and how if they shot like that, they would not act with such humility and wouldn't take it that well."
The Cougars are not the best team in the conference. That doesn't matter to these guys. The score matters to them but so does improving and earning respect from their opponents.
"We are much more confident just knowing that we are getting better each time we go out there," Johnson said. "We have fun, really, and that is important to us. We don't make it any more serious than it has to be. It is a game and we try to keep it that way."
Jeffrey Harris, a sophomore who played last year, and freshman Anthony Bondi are both more experienced. Budd and Johnson will be senior leaders next year, but the younger guys will be the core of this team.
"We try to be there and if we see someone is doing something wrong, we will try to help them," Bondi said. "We help and so do some of the guys on other teams. Everyone is focused on getting better."
The Cougars have improved and are making strides each day.
Budd can look back now on the start of last year and be proud.
"I just didn't want to make a fool of myself out there," he said. "I didn't know the game and wasn't accustomed to the rules. Now I can see improvement and want to get better each time I play. I have learned so much about how to play and about the rules of the game."
In high school, after a player reaches a triple bogey, the hole is over and players pick up their balls. The Cougars have gone from having one player who knew the rules and didn't finish holes last year to everybody finishing each hole this year.
"Jeffrey was the only guy who knew the rules last year," Smith said. "They didn't know what the blue tees were or what is the 150 marker. They were completely blind to the game."
They always knew how to act, though.
Don Beatty, golf coach at Lake Norman High School, noted that in an email last year:
"You and your team were the real winners. Each player was always courteous and polite," he wrote. "There were some good golfers in our conference, but your guys were the ones I always pulled for.
The Cougars can see their work paying off, too.
"The first time we didn't finish last and were able to beat someone, that was a great moment," Harris said. "It gave us a lot of confidence and something to build on next year."
Vance does lead the conference in one stat. The Cougars have the highest grade point average of anyone in the league. Budd and Johnson each carry over a 4.0 GPA and the rest of the team is not far behind.
"We are good people and we respect the game and other people. We work hard on our games and we strive to be better," Johnson said.