Pandas swing for par on new varsity team


Staff reporter

WILMINGTON – The traditional spring sports offerings for high school girls include softball, track and field, soccer, lacrosse and tennis. At Padua Academy, the available options have gone beyond the ordinary, and the Wilmington school has added a few sports not common in a high school setting. One of those is golf, which is in its second year as a varsity sport. (The school also added tennis this year.)

The golf team was a club for two years before becoming a varsity sport last season, senior Taylor Ohlinger said. The Pandas went 3-3-1 in their inaugural year and started the 2012 season with a 3-2 win over Cumberland Regional High School of New Jersey.

Several Delaware high schools have girls on their golf teams, but Padua is the only all-female squad in the state. Ursuline Academy established Delaware’s first all-girls golf team in 2003, but the Raiders are not fielding a team this season.

Ohlinger and teammate Maddie Sutton, a junior, said golfing against boys is just a fact of life in high school.

“Usually the guys are up at the top, so we get to play with them, too, but of course we get our red tees and they get the white tees,” Sutton said. The red markers denote where the ladies tee off and are somewhat shorter than the men’s.

“It’s nice having the competition of playing against the guys and seeing how good we can do against them, but it would be nice to see where we are against other girls,” she added.

Their three wins last season included a few over co-ed teams, but Ohlinger said they normally didn’t know the scores until they had left the course, so it was hard to tell how the guys felt about losing to girls. She said the guys have always treated the Padua athletes with respect.

“They get a little angrier than us, though, on the course” when they hit a bad shot, Ohlinger said.

Sutton and Ohlinger, both graduates of St. Mary Magdalen School in Wilmington, were introduced to the game by their parents. They find a lot to love about golf and are trying to drum up more interest among their schoolmates. Ohlinger likes its cerebral nature.

“I like how it’s not all physical. It’s mental, too. I know with other sports I play it’s really fast-paced, and you don’t always have time to think about what you’re doing. With golf, it’s a lot of thought involved, analyzing what club you’re going to use and all that kind of stuff. I like that,” she said.

Sutton, who also runs cross country and indoor track, said the individual accountability appeals to her. “Sometimes in other sports, if you mess up it’s another person’s fault, but in this one, you can put all the blame on yourself, and you can work to get better at it. And you can play the sport forever.”

Chad Kifer, the team’s coach, said golf is a great game to introduce to young people because of the many things they can learn.

“It teaches many of the vital qualities necessary to build good character and citizenship,” Kifer said. “Self-governance, discipline, honesty, integrity, mental strength are but a few of those qualities we seek to inspire in our students.”

The goal, he said, is to prepare the players for success not only in high school, but also college and beyond.

The coach said the players have benefited from the instruction of local golf professionals, which could help them in the future. According to Kifer, one-third of scholarship money allocated for collegiate golfers was unclaimed last year.

The Pandas have seven matches scheduled for this season, five of them on their home course, Ed Oliver Golf Club in Wilmington. One thing Ohlinger and Sutton would like to see is a bigger schedule. Most high school teams have 15 matches. Ohlinger also wouldn’t mind teeing off against a wider variety of schools, including traditional state powers Salesianum, St. Mark’s and Concord.

“In the future, I think it would be cool to maybe go against Sallies and see how we stand against other schools like that,” Ohlinger said.

Unfortunately, Ohlinger won’t be around next season, but Sutton, one of three juniors on this year’s roster, hopes the future is bright for Padua golf. She would like to recruit more girls to the team.

“I hope we have a lot more interest. There’s probably some people out there that don’t think they can golf or think it takes too much time or it’s too boring, but I just feel if people get out there and try it, they’d like it. And they might be good at it.

“People think it’s the most boring thing ever, but it’s not,” Sutton said.