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Junior golfers tee up for game and lessons in life

SANTA CLARA PUEBLO, N.M. - Sizzling temperatures didn't stop kids and teens alike from playing golf and meeting new friends during the Second Annual National Native American Junior Golf Championships.

Last year's defending champions LaMonte Billy and Jessica Dailleboust walked away with awards for top scores in both the Overall Champions and Division I competitions.

Billy plans to continue competing at the college level. He's been awarded a full scholarship to the Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla.

"It's a great honor to win," said Billy explaining that although he'd won last year, he practiced and prepared even more for this year's tournament. He also mentioned he'd like to see more Native people on the professional golfing circuit.

Billy is presently competing in the Teens on the Green World Championships in Los Angeles.

Dailleboust, a high school student, said she plans to compete in this tournament again next year and also to continue playing when she enters college. She invited other teens to "see how much fun it can be and get involved" with golf.

More than 150 kids participated in the 54-hole, three-day competition and Developmental Camp that began at the Pojoaque Pueblo's Towa Golf Course, moved to the Pueblo de Cochiti Golf Course, then to the Black Mesa Golf Course on Santa Clara Pueblo.

Notah Begay III visited during the second day of the event to meet junior golfers, sign autographs and give a clinic focused on improving and polishing skills.

"My advice for Native American golfers trying to get more exposure, is to try and be more involved in tournaments like these and to keep playing the game, stay focused, and remember that there is always room for improvement," said Begay.

The competition recognized outstanding golfing skills for ages 11-18 and the Developmental Camp provided an opportunity for kids 7-17 to improve golfing and life skills.

J.B. Cisneros, founder and executive director of NAJGA (Native American Junior Golf Association) explains although the camp stresses the techniques, rules and etiquette of golf, it also provides an environment where kids learn about life. He said he equates solving the problems of the game with solving problems of everyday life.

"Golf and life mirror one another. If a kid hits a ball behind a tree he must decide to step away or get involved and figure out a way to get the ball around the tree."

Cisneros said learning to play golf teaches time management, patience, getting along with one another, discovering other cultures and discovering alternative avenues for finding success in life.

"We may have a kid that may not make it on tour but may have skills at supervising, engineering, or course design they can bring to the national level."

Brent Cahwee has been playing for what he said is a long time - three years. He said his favorite part of golf is getting up early and hitting the ball hard.

Lauren Goombi also said she has fun playing golf and looks forward to being a professional golfer. "It makes me feel proud because it's the best I can do."

"Sports teach kids how to be responsible for their own actions," said Brent Cahwee Sr., a volunteer at the event. Cahwee has played golf for 12 years and also practices with his son who participated in the camp.

"It stresses techniques and life skills like honesty and integrity which helps in the future," said Cahwee, Sr. He said he donated his time because he believes in the program.

Beyond golf techniques and life skills, the event gave participants opportunities for fostering cultural understanding and friendship between different tribal communities. Each junior golfer and golfing team was encouraged to bring a banner representing their tribal affiliation.

During a cultural exchange held after the second day of competition, each golfer brought something representing their tribe to trade with another participant.

For more information about the National Native American Junior Golf Championships, go to www.nascsports.org or about NAJGA go to www.najga.org.