Cameras clicked, fans scrambled for autographs, and there was a general commotion over the presence of a living legend. Such a fuss is rare for a witness at an education hearing on Capitol Hill.
The focus was on the golf champion Jack Nicklaus, who drew a packed audience to a hearing before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on June 28 about efforts to build character through youth sports.
Representing the First Tee, a St. Augustine, Fla.-based program that promotes values to youths learning the game and distributes a character education curriculum to schools, Mr. Nicklaus shared some of the life lessons he acquired on the golf course early in his career.
“My father focused on aspects of the game that would make me a better person, not just a better golfer,” the 66-year-old, nicknamed the Golden Bear, told the committee. “The first time I threw the ball [in frustration] my father said he hoped it would be the last. And it was.”
The hearing, which focused on what schools can do to teach children about character, yielded high praise for the program and Mr. Nicklaus. Several education committee members, including Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the panel’s chairman and an avid golfer, gushed over Mr. Nicklaus’ accomplishments.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who said she was recruited for the girls’ golf team that was created at her high school in response to Title IX, recalled spending cold winter days watching Mr. Nicklaus on TV as he played in yet another sunny locale. She suggested that the committee discuss how Congress might fortify Title IX, which bars sex bias in federally funded schools.
Mr. Nicklaus emphasized the success of the First Tee, with 268 chapters and more than 700,000 participants nationwide, in providing opportunities for boys and girls alike to develop their golf skills regardless of background.
“We need to do everything we can to promote positive values in our children,” said Mr. Nicklaus, who is a co-chairman of one outreach program for the First Tee. “Golf is just the vehicle, not the destination.”
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week