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Rockets' golf program nearly ready for takeoff

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Imagine trying to put together a staff for a new store, but all your potential employees have little to no retail experience. You have to employ them to start up, but how will your store be able to compete with others that have more experienced workers?

This problem is similar to one that some high school golf teams deal with year-in and year-out.

One program that faced this issue was Dave Childress’ Spring Grove golf team. The Rockets finished second in YAIAA Division I last season, but Childress was having trouble attracting incoming freshman to the sport and, even when he could, many of them had never played the game.

“If all of your players have never played golf until they’ve gotten to the ninth grade, then you can’t be competitive,” Childress said. “That’s really where the problem is. You have to get clubs into the hands of the kids in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, if not earlier.”

Childress admitted that after coaching at Spring Grove for four years, he thought about stepping away. But he changed his mind quickly when he held a general interest meeting this past January.

Unlike in previous offseasons, Childress opened the meeting up to first- through eighth-graders, and he was stunned by the results. He expected a few prospective golfers to show up, but 19 students came to the meeting with their parents, and within two weeks, six more showed interest.

Needless to say, Childress no longer needed to worry about the future of his program.

“I don’t know if anyone else has gone that route,” Childress said of his development of grade-school athletes. “The bottom line was, I had 25 kids available to me for the next eight, nine, 10, 11 years."

Over the winter he worked with this group of young golfers at indoor facilities and could see some of them one day joining the Rockets. One of these players told Childress about an older brother who was interested in playing, and that’s how sophomore Brandon Simmons began his tenure with Spring Grove golf.

“My brother came home one day and he was talking about how much fun it was,” Simmons said. “I figured it was worth a shot to go over there and I did. I met Dave and things just kind of took off from there.”

Simmons is the perfect example of what could have been had Childress discovered him earlier. The sophomore played his first 18-hole match back in May and is already scoring in the high 80s while showing flashes of brilliance along the way. In Wednesday’s final regular-season match, Simmons struck the pin on the par-3 fifth hole at Hanover County Club and proceeded to tap it in for the birdie.

While he didn’t start playing consistently until high school, Simmons knows how important it is for golfers to start at a young age.

“It’s important to develop a relationship and get to know the coach and become close with everyone else on the team,” Simmons said. “Start out young and develop your game so by the time you get to high school you’re ready to go.”

Plenty of other coaches and players will echo the same remarks, but the Spring Grove program has broken the mold when it comes to discovering and shaping future talent.

This year, the team finished third in YAIAA Division I play with 84 points — Central York finished atop the division standings with 123 points while Dallastown finished second with 105. And while the Rockets will not compete in Wednesday's YAIAA Team Championships — the three teams taking the course will be respective division winners Central, Dover (123 points in Division II) and York Catholic — Mason Staub, Luke Hoffnagle and Ty Gladhill will all take the course in Thursday's YAIAA Individual Tournament.

Said Childress, “I think the future is pretty good here at Spring Grove.”