Organization celebrates 25 years of teaching youth skills and sportsmanaship
By Melissa Komar
Dozens of children donning matching white polo shirts gathered in the banquet room at Juniata Golf Club and excitedly eyed trophies and medals on display at the front of the room.
Representing various centers throughout the city, the children were celebrating the final day and awards ceremony of the PAL Golf Camp.
Bob Wheeler, former officer at the defunct Police Memorial PAL in Frankford and current general manager at Juniata Golf Course, helped create the camp 25 years ago.
“Golf was just starting to get popular and I thought it should be added as an offering to the inner-city kids,” said Wheeler, who was working part-time at the golf club when he started the camp. “We wanted to introduce a different sport to the kids. And golf teaches you life. It teaches you to be honest with yourself and you make friends.”
Joe Melendez was the commanding officer for PAL when Wheeler started the week-long golf camp that remains one of the highlights of PAL’s year-round programming.
“Golf is great because it’s a sport you can play until the day you die,” he said. “And the camp not only teaches the kids the sport of golf, but it teaches them camaraderie, how to compete, how to get along with others, teamwork and to pull for each other.”
The week-long camp, where children receive t-shirts, polos, trophies and meals and snack, is completely free, with Geico funding this year’s program.
The impact of the camp goes beyond putting and chipping on the course.
Sisters Rachel, 12, and Sarah Mace, 16, are members at Rizzo PAL and have participated in the PAL Golf Camp for four and seven years, respectively.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Rachel said. “You learn the three Rs: respect yourself, respect your surroundings, and respect others.”
Sarah reiterated the importance of the three Rs.
“You learn the rules of the game and the three Rs,” she said. “It’s a great week. I know everyone and get to know them better every year and I improve my skills.”
Aside from learning life lessons, the Mace sisters walked away with some serious hardware.
Sarah won first place in the putting contest in the girls 13 and over age group.
Rachel took first place in the putting and closest to the pin contests in the girls 11 to 12 age group and was named Female Golfer of the Camp.
Tacony PAL member and Holmesburg resident Ricky Rorabaugh, 17, is another example of how influential the camp is.
Rorabaugh participated in the camp for six years and served as a volunteer coach this year.
“I learned how to perfect my game and I get to golf with my friends,” he said. “I really like to play golf, and PAL has given me so much and this is how I can give back to them.”
Rorabaugh received a PAL scholarship and will play golf for Penn State at the Abington campus this year.
It’s youth such as Rorabaugh and the Mace sisters who PAL and Officer Ernie Rehr, director at Rizzo PAL in Port Richmond and PAL Golf Camp director, continue the tradition for year after year.
“The camp gives the kids an opportunity to try something different in life. Golf is an expensive sport and not all the kids have access to it. And it teaches them perseverance and respect for themselves and others.”