Tee Time

Lee High School dropped football, deciding golf was a better sport for its kids, no matter how poor or new to this country they might be

When he was a toddler, his grandfather let him sit on his lap and drive the golf cart. After his grandpa died two years ago, Records joined the golf team.

He's the team's most enthusiastic player, says the coach, Ryan Rhodes. "He's been raring to go for weeks," the coach says. Records picked up the game fast, too. "He hit his first par after only a couple of months of playing," Rhodes says.

On the first day of practice Records rides with the coach to the golf course -- so he'll get an extra 20 minutes of putting time before the rest of the team arrives.

Principal Steve Amstutz says no one complained when he cut football.
Daniel Kramer
Principal Steve Amstutz says no one complained when he cut football.
April Ayers plays with pink golf tees.
Daniel Kramer
April Ayers plays with pink golf tees.

Near the end of practice, the coach hands the golf bag to Records and asks him to carry it.

"Do I look like your slave?" Records asks.

"No," the coach says. "But you look capable."

From behind, his mother yells, "Make him run!"

Fifty years ago, most members of Lee's current golf team would not have been allowed to play on any public course in Houston. Back then, the courses were for whites only.

In July 1948, four African-American men tried to play a round at the Hermann Park Golf Course. They were turned away. Afterward, City Council debated building a separate course for blacks -- one councilmember offered to donate the land, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Before the sport was officially segregated, a federal lawsuit was filed against the city by five African-American men -- three physicians, a funeral director and a beauty school owner. They were A.W. Beal (who started Beal's Health Clinic in the Fifth Ward), W.J. Minor, Hughes J. Lyman, Milton A. Pruitt and J.H. Jamison. The plaintiffs said they paid taxes on public courses and had a right to play. Their NAACP attorney argued that the city zoo had been desegregated since 1927 -- and there was more likely to be friction at a zoo than on a sedate golf course with mature players.

In June 1954, City Council approved an ordinance permitting people of any race to play golf on public courses.

April Ayers draws her club back over her shoulder and accidentally slams herself in the butt. ³Ow, I hit my phone,² says the 17-year-old senior. ³I think I called someone.²

Ayers is the most experienced golfer on the team. She's been playing with her dad since she was eight. They spent hours in the front yard hitting plastic golf balls, perfecting her swing. "I'm not sure how proficient I was at teaching her," says petroleum broker Michael Ayers. "I'm not sure who is more to blame or responsible for it, the golf coach or myself."

Ayers plays with neon-pink golf tees, wears sparkly eye shadow and loves shopping at the Gap and on ULTA.com. "I'm just like every other girl at Lamar," she says. Which is where she wanted to go to high school, but her older sister was attending Lee when she was a freshman. She has friends at Lamar, and attends their Friday-night football games.

Last year she petitioned for both an on-campus Starbucks and a football team. "You're supposed to have football in high school. That's part of being in high school," she says. "Haven't you ever seen Varsity Blues?"

Ayers and her dad go hunting for white-tailed deer and wild hog. She has a .243-caliber Weatherby rifle, and is a better shot than her dad. "As I used to tell people, 'She'll shoot your eyes out at 100 yards,' " he says.

She says she's just as deadly on the course. April claims that during one game, she hit a black bird sitting in the middle of the fairway. "I guess he thought it would be a safe place with me hitting -- and it should have been," she says. "But it didn't move. I think the bird hit the ball, actually."

Last year, there were only three girls on the golf team: Ayers and fellow seniors Nadia Gire and Shara Musa. Ayers and Gire have known each other since kindergarten. The two met Musa in middle school. The threesome spent nearly every day together this summer, shopping, going to Crystal Beach and golfing.

A new girl, 15-year-old sophomore Lashay Howard, joined this year. Howard was in the coach's math class last year. She had never played golf, not even putt-putt. She says she was looking for something to do after school, and golf seemed easy. The first ball she hit on the putting green went right into the hole.

Lee¹s teammates fight over who gets to be ranked last -- because the No. 1 player has to compete against the top players at the opposing schools. And Lee happens to be up against some of the district¹s top golf teams, such as Bellaire and Lamar. Lee¹s opposing teams have kids who grew up playing with golf pros. Last year, Lee came in last at district competition; not a single student placed.

"It really is frustrating for the guys and girls to go out there and compete against somebody who's been playing a lot longer and has a lot better grasp of the game," Rhodes says.

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