When he first started teaching, Cortez “Corky” Simpson had no intentions of staying long; instead, he’d envisioned a life where he’d worked his way through the ranks of the local school community until he’d achieved his ultimate goal of coaching college football. But during his first two years of teaching middle school students, he discovered he had a natural gift to adjust to each child and speak to them in a way in which they’d listen. I was blown away with his passion for reaching out to the younger generation, and his analogy for life using the game of golf? Seamless. For someone like me who has never really played the game, it makes perfect sense. And I’m excited to share this story with you.
By Mel Williams
Cortez taught for 10 years before leaving to become an account executive in the radio industry, where he had the opportunity to meet a lot of new faces selling airtime. But after three years, he felt the need to respond to his desire to help children. One morning while sitting at a friend’s kitchen table, he started generating ideas. The first program he developed, Psalms, was geared towards mentoring young men returning home from juvenile detention centers and group homes. Using his experience, he created a curriculum and knew he would need to incorporate an activity to keep the kids engaged. Striving for originality, Cortez shied away from the notions of football and basketball in favor of another growing interest at the time, golf. He vividly recalls the Holy Spirit speaking to him, saying, “Teach them how to play golf. Call it 1Stroke and teach them how to play golf and live life one stroke at a time.”
As Cortez shopped his Psalms program around to other organizations he began to get a similar response. They didn’t need the entire program, but one portion had caught their attention. They were curious to learn more about 1Stroke. Cortez decided to inverse his Psalms program by integrating that curriculum into 1Stroke, placing it at the forefront. He also created a 9 Step syllabus that involved generating an assessment of each child, identifying underlying issues, and discussing how the child got involved in their current predicament. As he explains it, on a golf course you have 18 holes. When you play the front 9 you hope to work out kinks so that by the time you make “the turn” aka the halfway point, you play the back 9 a lot better.
“The same with my kids. They’ve played the front 9 when they come to me. They’ve got in trouble and put themselves in bad situations… they’re making the turn when they come to me and hopefully, we can put together a process on the back 9 that’s successful.”
One distinguishing feature Cortez highlights is, “We teach our children to go and ask for forgiveness, but we very seldom tell them it’s okay to forgive themselves. And that’s one of the steps in the [9 Step] curriculum.” It’s important, Cortez feels, for a child to stop carrying the burdens of the past and to forgive themselves. Once this is accomplished it becomes a lot easier for them to move forward and make progress.
Since starting 1Stroke, Cortez has witnessed its impact in the lives of his young protégées. He shared the story of two young men who’d finished his program, in the mall one day. As they approached an escalator, they noticed a man with his family becoming apprehensive of their presence, until the moment the man noticed their hats were inscribed with the word “Titleist,” the name of a golf brand. This piqued the older man’s interest and he inquired about the boy’s interests in golf. By the time everyone reached their destination, the young men had walked away with an offer for summer jobs.
Cortez states, “If their hats would have said anything else, other than something to do with golf, that man would have never said anything to them.” Cortez believes the young men also realized this, and that the world of golf can provide opportunities basketball and football may not necessarily.
Cortez stresses that rather than direct each child in the direction they should go, he chooses to plant the seeds of the Holy Spirit. The idea of planting preconceived notions by telling them right from wrong fails once the child already finds themselves in a bad situation. Cortez’s objective has been to strengthen their inner conscience to help them make better decisions on their own and hopefully avoid undue adversities.
Through 1Stroke Cortez has formed partnerships with Guided Vessels (Atlanta, GA), A New Beginning and Positive Black Men (both based in Fayetteville, NC). He’s also the founder of the All Pro Dad Chapter, a program that invites the fathers of elementary children to join them for breakfast and encourages more interaction in the life of their child. His chapters ranged from 10-50 active participants across five schools. He recalls, “I would create an atmosphere that was inviting to the dads; I’d have music playing, pictures of sports and athletes up . . . talk about stuff that dads wanted to talk about . . . to create things to make them comfortable . . .”
When asked in his own words, “How does the game of golf compare to life?” Cortez responds, “In golf we have a bag of tools . . . You have a [little] ball. You hit that ball. Wherever that ball lands, you pick your tools up, you walk to that ball, you do an assessment, meaning how far out you still are, what type of grass you’re lying on, are you in the sand, is the grass long, short . . . based off your assessment you reach in your bag and pull out the best tool. Once you hit that ball you have no control over where it goes. You pick your tools up, go to that ball, do an assessment, and address the ball again.”
According to Cortez, life is the same way, hence the motto, “Live life one stroke at a time.” Cortez states the “bag of tools” we have in life are things like common sense, knowledge, friends and loved ones, all inside your bag. When you’re faced with a situation in life you must make an assessment and a decision. You won’t always have control over where that decision lands you, like that ball, but you’ll have to own up to that decision and deal with the consequences. Reassess. Repeat. And handle life one stroke at a time.
On the purpose of 1Stroke: “ . . . it introduces the game of golf to youth at the same time deal[s] with any issues they may be confronted with in life. That’s basically what we do.”
Cortez “Corky” Simpson
Cortez “Corky” Simpson is a native of Pinehurst, NC and was raised in Fayetteville, NC. He has taught Algebra I and II, Geometry, Calculus, Trigonometry, Business Law, and EMD, EMH and children with special needs. He is the father of two boys and three girls and has one beautiful granddaughter. Aside from golf he enjoys cooking, spending time with his family and friends, and holding constructive conversations with his elders. You can learn more about 1Stroke by visiting his website at http://www.1stroke.org.
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