Eagle Participant Awarded 2020 Heart of First Tee

As is everything in 2020, our year end celebration did not look the same. The PLAYer Experience was a drive through but we lucked out with a beautiful day to celebrate our participants. A highlight of The PLAYer Experience is the announcement of The Tom and Melissa Briner Heart of First Tee GCNKY Award. This award recognizes individuals, companies, parents, coaches, volunteers, or staff who embody the “Heart” of the First Tee through giving of time, talent or treasure; by demonstrating and living one of First Tee Core Values; or by going above and beyond to promote or further our missions. This year’s PLAYer Experience didn’t provide the audience for us to make that announcement. However, our year end board meeting took place virtually and we used this opportunity and audience to announce the first of two recipients for this year’s Award and share this inspiring story. We are thrilled to award Henry Mentzel the 2020 Heart of First Tee Award. Henry, a freshman at Walnut Hills High School, has participated in our classes since he was 7, is currently at the Eagle level and is our first participant to receive this honor. During the summer, he gives back by volunteering in our classes where is a positive role model for the younger kids in the program. Henry embodies the core values which are the heart of our curriculum. He is also kind, patient, encouraging and a dear friend to another First Tee teen, Will.

We are all living in extraordinary and trying times that have tested all of us in ways we couldn’t even imagine 9 months ago. Despite these challenges Henry Mentzel acting upon the values of the First Tee found a way to make a difference in our son’s life”, Rosie Abel wrote in her nomination. “My son, Will, who has Down syndrome, is not unlike most sixteen-year-olds — very outgoing, social, and full of energy. But the pandemic has proven to be particularly frustrating for him especially when Ohio shut down in March. His sense of isolation grew as the effects of the pandemic spread.” 

At First Tee, we teach how to develop your “go-to team” and also how to be that “go-to” person for someone else. Henry has taken this lesson and lives it every day. As the sudden shutdown of school left all of us confused, worried and unsure what to do, Henry took that opportunity to check in on his friend.  “To say it was a great day for Will is an understatement. This small act of kindness made such a difference in Will’s life. Henry was a peer lifeline for Will for the summer. Henry engaged in FaceTime conversations with Will, taught Will how to set up his gaming system so they could play together, and then invited his friends to join them,” said Rosie. “We immediately recognized the significance of Henry’s big-hearted actions. Henry did much more than just FaceTime, teach Will how to setup his gaming system, and introduce him to others through friendly on-line competition. Henry reconnecting with Will linked him to a larger group of friends. It is hard to underestimate the impact this had on Will’s life. Listening to the online banter between Will and his friends brought sheer joy to our ears. We understood that because of Henry’s generous spirit and unselfishness Will felt something he hadn’t for quite some time.” 

“Henry has shown the Heart of the First Tee by acting on the values he has learned from First Tee, deepening his bond with Will, and passing along those values to Will”, added Rosie. First Tee classes resumed in the summer and we saw both Henry and Will in their respective classes. Henry continues to be that go-to person for Will. He supports Will at the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati’s Buddy Walk and even invited Will to play a round of golf with him, knowing that Will was not as experienced as himself. Will is not the only recipient of Henry’s friendship. Many coaches and staff have witnessed his kindness and refreshing take on life, feeling joy in others successes. We suspect there are many other people who have been touched by Henry and consider him to be on their “go-to team.”

Congratulations Henry! Thank you for inspiring all of us to be better people.