Until this year, Vance High never fielded a girls’ golf team. There were never enough interested players.
Since Vance opened in 1997, there have been a handful of girls’ golfers but they played on the Cougars’ boys’ teams.
One of them, senior Cierra Johnson, who played with the boys last spring, is partly responsible for pulling together the first girls’ team. With the help of Jerry Smith, who coaches both teams, and community backing from some unlikely sources, this year’s girls Cougars are pioneers for their school and their sport.
“We were really able to get our voice heard and establish a reputation for our school,” said Johnson. “Being the first team, a lot of people were really excited about it. We informed people, told them it wasn’t boring, that it was exciting.”
Though Johnson played her first golf as a 6-year-old, she didn’t take it seriously until last year when her mother encouraged her to pick it back up. She started tagging along with her father to The Tradition Golf Course and the Westwood Driving Range on Beatties Ford Road to prepare for the boys’ high school season in the spring.
Just like her male teammates, Johnson was required to take her tee shots from the men’s tees. She was not among the most competitive players in the conference, but her scores were sometimes better than some of the boys she was playing against, providing a few moments of pride and confidence for the junior.
Toward the end of the boys season, Johnson spoke with Smith about developing a girls’ team for the fall. The idea gained traction when Smith announced the possibility at the Cougars spring banquet. He made his first plea to a prospective player: Hannah Eads, whose brother Corey was on the boys’ team.
Eads had played sparingly since her eighth grade year, maybe four times a year. Sometimes she would work on her swing in her backyard with her father.
Smith received approval for the team to play this year by mid-summer. All the hard work was still ahead: scheduling matches and practices, ordering uniforms, and helping his novice players get their hands on sets of clubs.
Johnson was determined to help raise some of the necessary funds. She helped design Vance girls’ golf T-shirts to sell and has raised about $420 so far.
Johnson also employed the help of a member of her church, WSOC-TV news anchor Erica Bryant, who agreed to do a piece on the team.
Watching the story on television from her summer home in Linville, was Jorj Morgan, a south Florida resident whose son, daughter-in-law, and three granddaughters live in Ballantyne. Morgan decided to rally her Linville Ridge Nana Network – a loose collection of charitable grandmothers in the Linville Ridge golf community – around the Vance team.
Together, the 30 to 40 Nana’s collected an array of equipment, including enough bags and clubs to fit the entire team, and between $1,000-$1,500 to help offset the costs of greens fees. Morgan personally delivered the items to Vance High over three trips to Charlotte to visit with her family.
Playing for Vance was the first time many of the golfers played competitively. Initially, Eads was worried that her lack of precision and skill would irritate established players. She was pleasantly surprised that her opponents were inviting and nurturing.
“You make a lot of friends with girls from other schools,” said Eads. “These girls, they support each other on the course. I thought these girls would be annoyed if I hit it really bad or if I took too much time.”
The Cougars played only MECKA 8 4A Conference matches this season. Vance struggled to stay competitive with the other teams.
Many times its players’ scores reached the maximum 63, but they had moral victories by simply finishing their nine holes. Johnson and Eads each had matches in which they finished with scores of 58.
Other team members are Imani Johnson, Victoria Wallace, Saxia Chaney, Sharriyanna Wilson, and Jamice Wilson. Vance’s season concluded Oct. 13 with the conference tournament at Rocky River Golf Club.
“At this stage we can’t compete with any team in our conference,” said Smith. “We’re playing teams with players who have played for years. We’re trying to compete every day. Our scores are dropping (and) I’m happier than the coach that wins the match.”