2014-05-08 / Family

Student organizes Girl Scout golf clinic

Tournament and clinic designed for kids with brain injuries
By Becca Whitnall


ON THE GREEN—Jack Wisinski, 11, of Agoura Hills fires a putt as volunteer Tori Roeske, a sophomore from Oaks Christian, stands by to assist him. Austin Moncourtois, 10, waits his turn in back during the golf clinic for special needs kids led by a local Girl Scout. 
DAVID YAMAMOTOAcorn Newspapers ON THE GREEN—Jack Wisinski, 11, of Agoura Hills fires a putt as volunteer Tori Roeske, a sophomore from Oaks Christian, stands by to assist him. Austin Moncourtois, 10, waits his turn in back during the golf clinic for special needs kids led by a local Girl Scout. DAVID YAMAMOTOAcorn Newspapers A local Girl Scout has introduced kids with special needs to the joys of golf.

She took them to the fairways, greens and bunkers of a Simi Valley golf course where many of them were shown the game for the fi rst time.

Cayton Coburn, a 15-yearold Oaks Christian sophomore and member of Girl Scout Troop 133 in Thousand Oaks, created, organized and executed a fourweek golf clinic and tournament for children with brain injuries and special needs for her Gold Award project, “Swing Back.”

The Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouts and requires girls to identify an issue, investigate it thoroughly, create a plan to address it, build a team to help carry out the plan and, finally, take action.

Cayton said she has a friend in scouting who inspired the project.

As a result of a stroke that occurred when she was a baby, the friend has difficulty playing sports, Cayton said.

“I started doing research because it was really heart- breaking for me. I thought it was really sad she couldn’t compete at the same level as others,” she said.

After reading an article about a doctor in Nebraska who ran a golf clinic for people with special needs, she decided to teach her friend to play golf. Cayton, whose father is a golf pro, had been playing since sixth grade.

“We were only out there for an hour and a half, and she was doing amazingly well,” Cayton said.

It was inspiration enough to talk to her Oaks Christian golf team coaches about it. Getting positive feedback, Cayton began researching motor skills and ways to strengthen them. She started collecting golf clubs from golfer friends and Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark.

She lined up free practice time at Wood Ranch Golf Course in Simi Valley; a sponsor, Verango Solar, for the end-of-clinic tournament; and prizes donated by Roger Dunn Golf Shop.

She enlisted coaches and golf team members from both Oaks Christian and La Reina high schools to serve as clinic coaches. Her goal was to have at least one coach for every two children.

Eventually, Cayton approached Thousand Oaks’ Center 4 Special Needs and Rainbow Connection Family Resource Center, which helped connect her with parents of children with special needs by sending out fl iers about her clinic.

Joeli Gutfleisch was among the parents who received Cayton’s flier. Her son, Alex, 11, has a developmental disability and, Gutfleisch said, golf works well for him because it is an individual sport.

“I got the email flier and I thought that would be fun for him,” she said. “From the very first day we showed up, Cayton was so organized. She had a buddy for each kid, and they were very encouraging, and Alex loved to go.”

In addition to giving participants the opportunity just to play golf, Gutfleisch said, it was good for their socializing and self-esteem.

Ilene Seigel also received the flier and signed up both of her children, Lauren, 14, and Matthew, 11. Other than going miniature golfing a couple of times, neither child had played the game before, she said.

“I was shocked at how fast they were able to pick it up and actually hit the ball some distance,” Seigel said.

Her children have two different autism spectrum disorders and have both had foot surgery due to distal arthrogryposis, a disease resulting in decreased flexibility of the joints. They have balance issues and other limitations, Seigel said.

“I hate to tell them ever they can’t do something, but then again you don’t want to set them up for failure. Golf is something they physically can do,” she said.

Lauren described the experience as pretty good overall.

“ I learned something. I learned to play golf,” she said. “I don’t want to do it as a career, but I guess I could do it for fun.”

And fun was part of the point, according to Cayton.

“This is both therapy and it’s also a skill they have for their entire life. It gives them a sport they can just play,” she said.

The Thousand Oaks resident said she’s learned from the experience as well. Because she had to organize the clinic essentially by herself, she said, she’s learned organizational skills and credits her mom, who’s served as Cayton’s Scout leader since first grade, as a role model in that area.

She said she’s learned patience. And she’s learned about children with special needs.

“People view them as ‘special needs’ and think they can’t do everything everyone else can, and in some cases, that’s true, but they can do so much,” Cayton said.

“It’s really opened my eyes and allowed me to see this.”

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