Granted, I might be biased as a graduate of Howard University. But even objective observers have to agree that Howard is arguably the nation’s most prestigious HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
The long list of distinguished alums include notables in law (Thurgood Marshall), politics (U.S. Senator Kamala Harris), acting (Chadwick Boseman), writing (Toni Morrison) and much more. As noted on its website, Howard is among the highest producers of America’s black professionals in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, nursing, architecture, religion, law, music, social work and education.
Not so much.
Future Bison might never roam the links on the PGA Tour or LPGA Tour. Fortunately, that’s not the ultimate goal of NBA superstar Steph Curry in his generous gift to the school. Like other sports, golf offers its participants a host of benefits that don’t include a paycheck.
That’s why Curry is making a seven-figure donation as part of a six-year partnership to sponsor Howard’s first Division I golf team.
He’s not hoping to mine the next Tiger Woods. Curry just wants to share his love of the game and allow Howard students to compete at the highest levels.
“Golf is a sport that has changed my life in ways that are less tangible, but just as impactful,” Curry said in a statement prior to Monday’s news conference at historic Langston Golf Course. “It’s a discipline that challenges your mental wherewithal from patience to focus and is impossible to truly master. So when you hear about these passionate student athletes who have the talent but don’t really have a fair shot at the game, it’s tough.”
His gift was inspired by the tale of Otis Ferguson IV, whom he met during a film screening on campus in January. They spoke about their passion for golf and Ferguson said he chose Howard — his dream school — over other places that offered a chance to play collegiately. He subsequently founded Howard’s club team.
Ferguson joined Curry, school president Wayne A.I. Curry and Callaway Golf CEO Chip Brewer in a foursome after Monday’s news event. A better setting wouldn’t be possible, considering that the course is named for John Mercer Langston, Howard Law School’s first dean and Virginia’s first black congressman. Howard athletic director Kery Davis tagged along.
“We love golf in terms of how it fits the profile of the Howard student,” Davis said in a phone interview from the course. He said he and Frederick had discussed reviving Howard’s program — which competed for decades in Division II before ending in the 1970s — but they were stymied by a lack of resources.
Similar shortages have created barriers to entry for would-be black golfers.
Be it a lack of time, lack of funds or lack of accessible courses, golf has proved elusive to many young people of color. Even with Woods’ transcendent career, the sport has struggled to achieve diversity, one reason that black players usually are in the minority on HBCU golf teams. Davis said Howard golfers will work with Curry’s Eat Play Learn Foundation to help spread the sport, much like The First Tee program with which Woods works.
“We’re playing the long game here,” Davis said. “We know we’re not going to compete in the NCAA tournament in our first year of existence. But we have both a Howard focus and an African-American community focus. We want to grow the game among minorities, and having Steph’s involvement at this level will certainly help.”
Aside from the social connections and business transactions that golf can provide, it’s also marvelous connective tissue, one of the rare sports that grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy together and compete in. Just elders passed down the game to Curry and Ferguson, generations of future Bison players will do likewise.
Davis will hire a coach and begin recruiting players this year, with plans for the men’s and women’s teams to begin action in 2020-21. The men’s team can join the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference right away, though the conference currently doesn’t compete in women’s golf.
And to think, all of this evolved from Curry’s work as executive producer on “Emanuel,” a documentary on the 2015 mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Ferguson was among several Howard students who made a strong impression in discussions after the screening.
“Every student had a passion, a vision, something they wanted to do to change something at Howard, something they wanted to do to change the world,” Curry said at Monday’s news conference. “Hearing each of one of their stories was empowering and encouraging.
“The idea of recreating Howard’s golf team, turning it into a Division I program for men and women, was born that night.”
For one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, it was a shot he couldn’t pass up.
• Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.
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