By John Goralski
For years, Dan LaPorte has been focusing his efforts on youth golfers with a number of developmental leagues at Hawks Landing Country Club. For just as long, Eric Swallow has been focusing his attention toward the development of high school athletes in his role as Southington’s athletic director.
Whenever they get together, their conversation inevitably drifts towards high school golf and Southington’s inability to field a girls team.
Swallow even tried to call for a meeting at the high school last year, but his efforts drew less than a handful of interested students. LaPorte created his third feeder system last fall in order to focus on the golf needs for middle school girls.
Both were resigned that their dreams were still years from fruition, but that wasn’t the message from the middle school girls. They want to compete at the high school, and they want it now. Rachelle Heil was the coach for the Hawks Landing fall league, and she joined LaPorte and Swallow to champion the local girls.
“I had four girls on the fall team that were eighth graders, and they all showed an interest in playing further down the road,” said Heil. “One girl’s going to leave the school system so that she’ll have a chance to play golf, and that’s silly to me. We should try to do something so that they can stay here and go to school with their friends.”
Is Southington ready for another varsity sport? Is it realistic to think that a team can be ready for this spring even though it isn’t in the school budget? Is it enough time for school officials to secure funds and a facility, hire a coach, and set up a schedule?
It’s a scramble against the clock, but Swallow said that it’s worth a shot.
“We want to start to generate some interest and promote girls golf. I’m so supportive of that, but is it realistic? I don’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to get it ready for the spring. We have to put a lot of things together, but I’m already looking at January. If I can have a situation where we can have girls begin to practice and get in practice rounds, we can start to develop some kind of format for training. It could happen. I’m not sure about how competitive we’ll be, but…”
LaPorte tracked down some grants, and Swallow has already submitted it to the state for consideration. LaPorte has contacted Nike to negotiate for pricing on necessary equipment. Now, Swallow is looking to see if the interest has really grown in the high school.
The most important question is whether we have enough girls to field a team.
“We need to determine the interest that exists here at Southington High School. Last year, we put out inquiries for about a month. We asked for anyone interested in participating in a golf club to attend the meeting, but we only had about four kids show up,” said Swallow. “I want them to come directly to the athletic office so I can develop a list of girls that are interested. I’m in full support of doing this, but at the same time we have to be realistic.”
LaPorte urges interested girls to show their support. Neighboring towns like Cheshire, Farmington, Newington, and Berlin already have teams. Last year 23 teams competed at the CIAC girls tournament. LaPorte hopes to make it 24.
“Three years ago, we started our youth league, and those kids are entering the high school next year,” he said. “There’s been a demand from the parents. They’ve been asking us about the next phase. They want to play in high school, and they want to know what to do.”
Can it happen by spring? Swallow said that it will depend upon the funding and the interest. It won’t be on the school budget this year or next. Southington could field a club team as early as this spring if the grants get approved. That could lead to a varsity roster in upcoming years. The paperwork’s been filed. Now, it’s a numbers game.
“We’re going to have to take baby steps. Unfortunately, that’s what we have to do,” said Swallow. “If we get to a point where we have 30 girls that want to get involved, we’ll have a stronger case when I go to the Board of Ed or put it in a budget format.”
Swallow urges girls to contact him at his office if they’re interested.
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