How To Help

To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at kcornpga@gmail.com. This blog is not affiliated with Ranken Jordan. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not those of Ranken Jordan. Thank you for reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

I Don't Believe What I Just Saw

When reading the title of this post, many sports fan will immediately flash back to October 15, 1988, and Game 1 of the World Series between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers.  They will recall the late, great Jack Buck's famous call as Kirk Gibson was limping around the bases after hitting a backdoor slider from Dennis Eckersley out of Dodger Stadium for a game winning home run.  However even though I grew up near St. Louis listening to Jack Buck on KMOX 1120 radio, I now tend to think of things other than Gibson's home run when I see, hear, or say those words.  Over the past 6 1/2 years I've heard and said those words more than a few times.


Brad loves hitting driver!

While helping one of our regular junior golfers during a recent junior golf clinic, we were joined by a therapist who wanted to mix therapy and golf.  This is certainly nothing new as golf has been incorporated into therapy plans since we began the golf program on May 10, 2011.  About halfway through our session, I heard the therapist say, "I don't believe it. I've never seen that before." What happened that prompted that reply?  Our junior golfer made eye contact with me and signed "play more."  I don't know sign language, but have learned enough to know exactly what was said to me so we did just what was requested -- teed up another golf ball and kept playing!


Abbey loved "Golfday" during her time at Ranken Jordan!

Throughout our 325+ (and still counting) golf clinics there have been many instances where any number of people said something similar to "I don't believe what I just saw."  Several of those stories I have written about in detail in other blog posts.  There was the time I looked at Janine Roe, Community Program Director at Ranken Jordan, and said "did you see that?" as one of our most dedicated junior golfers reached over from her wheelchair and raked the next golf ball onto her mat to hit.  Or how about the time Dakota told us golf was "stupid and boring" prior to finally picking up a putter and making 20 consecutive 5 foot putts?  Maybe watching Cooper progress from hitting golf balls out of his hospital bed, then from his wheelchair, on to his walker and then with no aid.  Of course who could forget watching junior golfers like AJ, Drew, May, CC, and Brad stand for the first time to hit golf balls!  That certainly elicited the aforementioned response!

Not sure who is getting the putting lesson!
When you spend any amount of time in an incredible facility like Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital, you will always see things that leave you amazed and believing in miracles (yes, there's another sports quote reference for you).  It would not be a stretch at all for me to say that each and every week I see something that makes me feel that way.  The examples I have mentioned in this post are only a few of the hundreds of stories that could be told.  I cherish every second I am fortunate enough to spend with the kids helping put smiles on their faces through the game of golf.  Mrs. Jordan was 100% correct when she said that we all should "consider the children first in all you do."

CC showing off her new glove

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Legends of Golf

Have you ever been part of an event that had so much meaning to you, was so powerful, that you just could not put your feelings into words?  That is how I have felt since Ranken Jordan's annual golf tournament which was played almost a month ago at Norwood Hills Country Club.  Every week at Ranken Jordan something happens that leaves me speechless.  The kids and staff there do such amazing things that I am constantly seeing something that has me in awe.  However at this year's event, the largest ever with 288 players and 327 for dinner, I knew it was going to be a very special day from the second I pulled into the parking lot.

Cooper, CC, and Sam with Lauri Tanner
As has become a tradition like one other, the golf tournament started with Ranken Jordan's Legends of Golf hitting ceremonial tee shots to officially start the event.  This was the third year of the tradition and it grows more impressive each year.  Sam Ward, CC White, and Cooper Burks stepped up in front of over 200 golfers and ripped tee shots right down the middle of the fairway to perfectly illustrate how successful Ranken Jordan's "care beyond the bedside" model is.  Rather than me inadequately describe how powerful these few minutes were, please click HERE to watch the video of the tee shots.

Cooper celebrating after his tee shot
Following the tee shots I had the privilege and honor to be part of a round of golf that I will never forget.  Many of you who read this blog regularly will remember Cooper Burks and how much he has enjoyed learning to play golf.  At 13 years old, Cooper, who is a sports nut, has had 26 hip surgeries and been very limited on what sports he could participate in.  With golf, those limitations are left in the clubhouse!  During this year's Ranken Jordan golf tournament, Cooper played his very first round of golf and I had a front row seat for it as he was sharing a golf car with me.  Suffice it to say, watching Cooper play his first round of golf is the most impressive thing I have ever seen on a golf course!  Almost a month later I still have no idea how I made it through that round without shedding any tears.

Cooper's first tee shot in his first round of golf!
The speeches, stories, and videos that are told and shown during dinner are always one of my favorite parts of tournament day.  This year's video featured some of the teenagers who have been "regulars" during Golfday at Ranken Jordan.  You can watch the video HERE (this video is when I started having "allergy" issues).  Lauri Tanner, President and CEO of Ranken Jordan, and Jennifer Mull, daughter of Phil Mull (aka "the Mullster"), shared moving stories of why this tournament is so critically important to so many children and families.  However just as the round of golf did, the night belonged to Cooper Burks.  You see, at 13 years old, Cooper got up in front of a packed ballroom and delivered a speech that had everyone so captivated you could hear a pin drop.  He spoke of why Ranken Jordan was important to him, the positive impact it has made on his life and his family, and how important golf has been to him.  At this point my tears were flowing like someone turned on a faucet.  His mother took a video of his speech and I have yet to be able to watch it from beginning to end without those tears reappearing.  Should you need to know the definition of strength, perseverance, and inspiration, you do not have to look any farther than Cooper.

Cooooooooop!
Every year the Ranken Jordan golf tournament is the one event I most look forward to.  It is truly an honor to be a small part of this important event.  Thank you to the entire golf committee for the year-round hard work they put in to make this tournament such a success.  Thank you to Lauri Tanner for being such an incredible friend and allowing me to spend so much time with the children.  And thank you to Cooper Burks for the honor of calling you a friend.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wheelchair? No problem!


Therapist: Does she want to play golf today?

Father: My daughter is in her wheelchair and can't stand up well enough to play golf.

Me: That's not an issue at all. She can play right from her wheelchair.

Therapist: Yes, we'll go hand-over-hand with her if that makes it easier, but she can definitely play.

Father: Really? She can do that?  I don't see how she can play golf from her wheelchair.

Me: Absolutely! We've had kids play from their hospital bed. If she wants to play, we'll make sure she has fun.

Father: She's smiling so that means she wants to play. Let's get her started!

This conversation occurred about a month ago prior to our weekly junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan.  Similar discussions tend to happen on a fairly regular basis.  Sometimes it it with a parent or family member, like in this case.  Other times it is with a friend, volunteer, or just someone who comes in the golf shop and asks questions about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  I always enjoy talking with and educating people about how golf truly is a sport for everyone.  It adds icing on the cake when those same people get to see first-hand just how well the kids play golf from their wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers, or with other medical equipment.


As has been covered multiple times on this blog, many of the children at Ranken Jordan have always been told they cannot do something because of their complex medical condition.  When I make presentations about the junior golf program or talk to others around the country about it, they share many of the same type of stories.  People of all ages who have different abilities are, unfortunately, routinely told that they cannot participate in a sport as a result.  My response to the people who incorrectly tell someone they cannot participate is typically, "oh yeah, watch this!"


There are two expressions that I will never tire of seeing as long as I am fortunate enough to work with the amazing kids at Ranken Jordan.  Both of those expressions were on display just a few swings after the conversation this blog post began with.  The first expression, and my favorite, is the big smile and look of pure joy on the face of the child.  They are having fun being a kid, playing, and doing exactly what any other child would be doing.  There is no greater feeling than putting a smile on the face of a child.  The second expression is the look of sheer awe on the face of the person who did not necessarily believe that a child could play golf from their hospital bed, wheelchair, walker, etc.  You can always tell when the light goes off in their mind and they become true believers that the kids can play golf and be included.


The ability of the kids will be on full display this coming Monday, July 24, at the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament held at Norwood Hills Country Club.  Prior to the event, our Legends of Golf will hit ceremonial tee shots to officially start the tournament.  After hitting those inspirational tee shots, three of the kids will then play in the golf tournament.  There will be plenty of big smiles on the faces of those children just as there will be plenty of looks of awe on the faces of the 288 golfers in attendance.  I look forward to both!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Is Normal?

A few days ago I had some players come in the golf shop who had seen some of the videos and news stories about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  At that time we were not overly busy and they started asking questions about it.  These were people I had never met, but I am always happy to talk about Ranken Jordan and the kids there!  As can be expected, the more we talked the more stories I told about the kids, their successes, and the infinite number of smiles.  One of the stories went back to our very first summer.  I can not recall if I have shared the following story on this blog.  If I have, please forgive me, but I think you will enjoy reading it again.  I know I always enjoy sharing it.



Those of you who regularly read this blog may recall that our first junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan was on May 10, 2011.  I readily admit that when we started the junior golf program there I did not know what to expect.  The only thing I wanted to do was help the kids and put smiles on their faces.  Fortunately the kids, their families, and the Ranken Jordan staff were patient with me as we all learned together.  There were plenty of laughs, smiles, made putts, and long drives.  One thing that did surprise me, though, was the level of interest in the program from the parents and siblings of the patients.  It was during a conversation with the mother of one of the patients that I got my first of many lessons from the kids and their families.


While standing and watching one of our junior golfers hit great shot after great shot from his wheelchair, I was talking to his mother about her son.  During that conversation she mentioned how much fun he was having and asked me where she could buy clubs like her son was using.  There are times when I can be a bit slow in understanding things -- and this was one of those times.  I told her she could get the clubs at any golf shop or order them on the U.S. Kids Golf website.  She replied with, "no, I mean the clubs that my son is using."  Once again I gave her the same answer (told you I can be slow).  Thank goodness she was patient with me!  She politely said, "the adapted clubs he's using, where can I buy them?"  Suddenly a dim light bulb went off in my head.  I told her that the kids were all using standard U.S. Kids Golf clubs, that we did not have any adapted golf equipment.  I will never forget the look on her face or the tears in her eyes when she turned to face me and replied, "these clubs aren't adapted?  This is the first time my son has ever used something 'normal' in sports."


As I mentioned, I will never forget the look on that wonderful lady's face when she said the word "normal."  This was one of the earliest times in our program that I realized this was much more than golf.  In a wide variety of ways, the game was helping kids get better, helping families heal, and helping to bridge that transition back to home.  The game of golf was not just helping these amazing kids heal in the physical sense.  It was also helping them, and their families, heal mentally, emotionally, and socially.  I am so proud to say that 6 years later nothing has not changed.  All of us associated with the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan cherish the opportunity to introduce the kids to the game of golf and teach them how they can play regardless of their medical issues.  However what we enjoy the most, and I am certain I can speak for everyone on this, is watching the children heal and get back to living their lives to the fullest.  We do as Mrs. Jordan said, "consider the children first in all you do."


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

6

In the city of St. Louis the number "6" is a very well known and important number.  Most people in the metropolitan St. Louis area know why that is.  They know that it represents class, dignity, respect, humility, sincerity, and too many more positive traits to list.  The number six also represents "baseball's perfect warrior [and] baseball's perfect knight."  Six is the number that Stan Musial wore throughout his 22 year career with the St. Louis Cardinals.  There are few players in the history of Major League Baseball who were better or more respected players than Mr. Musial.  Around St. Louis he is still revered, even more than four years since his passing.



For one day, however, the number six will have an additional important meaning to me.  It will mean more than the pitcher turned outfielder turned first baseman who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969.  On May 10, 2017, the number six will represent the number of years since our first junior golf clinic at Ranken Jordan.  Think about that for a minute.  Six years equates to 312 weeks of golf clinics for the medically complex children at this unique, miraculous pediatric bridge hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.  Many of those weeks have included more than one clinic or has seen the kids asking therapists to get the golf clubs out at other times.


The children come to golf in hospital beds, wheelchairs, using walkers and gait belts, requiring ventilators, and many other "training aids" that will not slow them down.  Many of the kids that have enjoyed learning how to play golf have always been told they could never do it.  However one look at the smiling faces and hearing the laughter will tell you they do not believe that!  There are hundreds of stories I could tell about the kids learning how to play golf and utilizing it as a healing tool.  But the things that I always like to share the most are the smiles, laughter, and looks of pure joy as they hit that first solid shot.


While it is true that I initially approached Janine Roe at Ranken Jordan with a crazy idea and no clue of how to make it work, a program like this would not have a chance of being successful without the help and support of many people.  If I began naming names I would undoubtedly exclude someone -- to anyone who has helped at a clinic, volunteered, donated, encouraged, shared pictures or blog posts with their friends, etc., THANK YOU!.  However I do want to tell everyone what amazing people Janine Roe and Lauri Tanner are.  It is an honor to be able to call them friends and work with them.  Ranken Jordan is fortunate to have both of these incredible ladies and they are fortunate to have Ranken Jordan.  To Janine and Lauri -- thank you is not enough but I hope you both know how special I think you are.  Oh, one more thing, I am going to keep coming until y'all tell security not to let me in anymore!


Then there are the kids.  As I sit here typing this I find myself struggling more than usual to find the words to describe how incredible the children are.  Each and every one of them has made a life-long impression on me and all of them provide daily inspiration.  As those around me have heard countless times, there simply is no greater feeling than putting smiles on the faces of the children at Ranken Jordan.  Every day when I walk out the doors and to my car, I leave with the knowledge that I got far more from the clinic than I could possibly give to the kids.  The first six years have provided far greater success than any of us could have ever imagined.  Here's to six more years of "considering the children first in all we do."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Changing Attitudes

Me:  "You had never picked up a golf club before coming to Ranken Jordan, correct?

Junior Golfer:  "No, I had never played golf."

Me:  "So what do you think of it?"

Junior Golfer:  "This is fun!  I love playing golf and look forward to Wednesdays.  I even ask to get the clubs out on other days so I can practice."


Me:  "Well you are doing a great job.  I think I am going to have to get lessons from you so you can teach me how to hit it as straight as you do!"

Junior Golfer:  "I am ready to get started today.  Hopefully I can keep playing when I go home."

 



The four or five of you who regularly read this blog know that I have a tendency to start posts off with quotes from or conversations with the junior golfers we have at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, MO.  I like to share what the kids say and think about the junior golf program because more often than not they say it far better than I can!  The conversation starting this post occurred recently as we were getting ready to start our weekly junior golf clinic.  After almost six years of junior golf clinics, hearing comments like these is not uncommon.  However every time we hear it, the feeling is just as special as the first time.



In this particular instance, the junior golfer who let us know how much fun they were having playing golf, was quiet, shy, and reserved when they first started playing.  For the first couple of weeks, when the therapist would bring our new junior golfer to the "driving range" at Ranken Jordan, we would notice eyes that were looking down and ever present headphones that kept conversation from being easy.  But as we have seen in the past, after a few shots went flying into the target net, and maybe even a couple bouncing off the windows, the eyes started looking up, the headphones were taken off, and the smiles started arriving.  To steal from Jimmy Buffett, we did not change latitude, but golf changes attitudes!


These are the type of success stories that we like to see and share.  Yes, we are always excited to hear the kids say they are going to continue to play golf when they go home.  However the important part of the junior golf program is seeing the physical, mental, emotional, and social improvements in the kids.  This is what is possible when children are given an opportunity to learn and do something they likely have never had the chance to do previously.  It does not always have to be golf.  Golf is simply what I know and how I can provide that opportunity to them.  I have said it a million times before and I will continue to say it:  I am forever grateful to be able to spend the time I do with the kids and always look forward to "Golfday."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Arnie Would

"Making a positive change in the life of a child is one of the most significant things you can do." --Arnold Palmer

Year in and year out my favorite week is Masters Week.  During that week I watch "Live From the Masters" every morning on the Golf Channel.  When the tournament starts I will watch the regular broadcast, then watch the replay, and after that I will watch it again since I DVR all 4 rounds.  I love the Masters and Augusta National.  However this year I think this particular week carries more importance --- this week is the first Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill since Mr. Palmer's passing last September.  When I see the quote that is at the top of this post I cannot help but think that Mr. Palmer and Mrs. Mary Ranken Jordan would have had some wonderful conversations!


On a fairly regular basis I am asked why I started the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  The simple, and most accurate answer, is that starting it was simply the right thing to do.  I wanted to provide an opportunity for the kids at Ranken Jordan to simply be kids, to laugh, to smile, and to get better while learning to play the game of a lifetime.  It allows them to have an activity they can take home with them and enjoy with their siblings, parents, grandparents, and friends.  Golf provides the kids at Ranken Jordan with a fun way to heal physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.  The game has provided far more benefits than I could have ever dreamed . . . and it has done the same for the kids!


In the past few days this question was once again asked and with the arrival of this week it started me thinking (which is difficult for me to do at times).  The influences that steered me to even considering starting a junior golf program like this were significant reasons as to why I started it.  During more than three decades in education and coaching multiple high school sports, my parents had a significant impact in the lives of thousands of kids.  Growing up watching their tireless efforts certainly led me towards Ranken Jordan.  Hopefully my mother looks down every Wednesday and has a huge smile on her face.  Earlier today, when I saw a new MasterCard commercial, it suddenly dawned on me (I told you thinking could be challenging for me) that someone I have always admired, respected, and looked up to, also pointed me towards 11365 Dorsett Road.  Those who watch the golf tournament this week will surely see the commercial and hear, "Arnie would."


Throughout this week there will undoubtedly be stories and memories about the far-reaching impact that Mr. Palmer has had in golf and the world in general.  From William McGirt's story about why he signs his autograph legibly to the amazing work being done at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, stories about Mr. Palmer will be in abundance.  He gave so much to the game and through the game was able to give so much to others.  I still remember the impact he made on a 10 year old who asked him for an autograph when he put his arm around that kid's shoulders and took him onto the practice putting green at the Players Championship.  While you watch the golf tournament this week, remember Mr. Palmer and all the great things he stood for.  While we can't play golf like him, we can all strive to be more like him.  Find a way you can make a positive change in the life of a child and give them a thumbs up.  Arnie would.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Oh What A Night(s)!

Talk about time flying!  It seems like only a few days ago that I clicked "publish" on my last blog post and yet it was before Christmas!  Between a vacation, the Ranken Jordan Gala, and the PGA Show, January just disappeared.  However it is great to be busy and I would not change the past few weeks for anything.  Sandwiched in between the vacation and the PGA Show was the annual Ranken Jordan Gala.  As always, it was an incredibly uplifting, inspirational, and emotionally moving night.

With May Reynoso at the Ranken Jordan Gala


Each year I look forward to the Gala more than any other night of the year.  When the event starts I know at some point during speeches from Ranken Jordan President & CEO Lauri Tanner and Chief Medical Officer Nick Holekamp that I will be afflicted with sweaty eyes.  This year proved no different.  However the highlight for me of this year's Gala was being fortunate enough to be at the same table with 2 former patients and their families.  Both former patients had been regulars at our weekly junior golf clinics even though they had never touched a club before coming to Ranken Jordan.  One of the girls, May Reynoso, stopped me on the day she was discharged to go home to tell me that learning to play golf was her favorite part of being at Ranken Jordan.  I always look forward to seeing the videos that are put together specifically for the Gala (even though the sweaty eyes affliction promises strikes again during the videos).  This year separate videos were shown about the 2 amazing young ladies I was sitting with.  Please take a few moments to watch them here:



A few short days after the Ranken Jordan Gala I was once again on a plane heading back to Orlando for the PGA Show.  This year at the Show there were approximately 40,000 attendees and over 1,000 exhibitors.  To say it is a huge production is an understatement!  Typically at the PGA Show buying for the golf shop is finished for the year, old connections are re-established, new connections are made, and everybody's feet hurt from all the walking!  However this year included a very special, meaningful, and humbling night.  Every year at the PGA Show U.S. Kids Golf recognizes their Top 50 Kids Coaches.  On rare occasions, 2 times in their 20 year history, they present an additional award --- their Founder's Award.  This year marked the 3rd time they presented it and they chose to recognize me for the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.  To say I was shocked when I received the phone call would be a gross understatement!  I could never adequately express the feelings I had, and still have, that night as Dan Van Horn, founder of U.S. Kids Golf, made the presentation.  I am eternally grateful to Dan, John Bryan, and the entire U.S. Kids Golf company for their support of the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan.




Having the opportunity to celebrate and share what a special place Ranken Jordan is will always be something I am excited to do.  When that can occur at special events like the annual Gala and the U.S. Kids Top 50 Kids Coaches awards presentation makes even more meaningful.  The response to the Founder's Award has been both heartwarming and overwhelming.  I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about Ranken Jordan to visit their website HERE.  Next year at this time I will be writing about the completion of the expansion to double their capacity to help more kids & more families with more healing & more hope!
Spent a few minutes at the PGA Show talking to Scotty Cameron about designing putters to be used from hospital beds & wheelchairs