On a picturesque June afternoon at Country Club of Fairfax, Dillon Behr, a retired Green Beret and Purple Heart recipient, and his teammate, Nicholas Dimitroff, a rising sophomore from The First Tee of Northwest Florida, traded shots down the closing holes of the Brightspot Unified Challenge, looking to avenge a loss from their first match.
Despite their earlier loss, Dillon and Nicohlas’ red team had raced to a big lead during the round of best ball matches on the front nine. With an 8.5 to 3.5 point lead at the turn, the red team looked to be running away with the tournament. The switch to the alternate shot format; however, resulted in a hard charge from the blue team, who won 4 of the first 6 matches to narrow the gap.
Playing against John Schrader, a Brightspot employee and Marine veteran, and Zack Missigman from The First Tee of Phoenix, who had bested them on the front nine; Dillon and Nicholas surged through the final holes to win their match and put the red team (14-10) over the top at the 2017 Brightspot Unified Challenge.
This Ryder Cup-style event, sponsored by Brightspot, is just one of the many memorable unified activities during a week that showcases golfers from around the United States representing Special Olympics, The First Tee, and Feherty’s Troops First Foundation.
Since 2013, Brightspot has used the game of golf as a catalyst to bring together three groups—individuals with intellectual disabilities, youth golfers, and wounded veterans—to highlight the ideals of inclusion and to inspire participants through the stories of each other’s determination, courage, and perseverance. With 42 participants from around the country competing in this year’s tournament, Brightspot continues to provide a unique opportunity for these golfers to compete at some of the top courses in our nation’s capital, as well as connect off the course through a variety of different learning experiences.
Growing Off The Course
The weeklong Unified Challenge is far more than just a few rounds of golf; it is also a valuable learning experience that exposes participants to both careers in the technical world and the rich American history housed in Washington, DC.
On Tuesday morning, golfers from Special Olympics and The First Tee arrived at Brightspot headquarters in Reston, VA, for an inside look at how the company works, the software it builds, and the people that bring it to life.
After a quick training, the golfers worked alongside Brightspot interns on a hands-on publishing project that allowed them to see Brightspot in action. Publishing articles, galleries, and videos about inspiring figures, the golfers learned how partners use Brightspot to tell their stories online. Following this workshop, a round table with the lead project manager, designer, and developer from the redesign of JNJ.com provided valuable insight into the varying roles within a project. Later, each golfer paired with a Brightspot employee for a one-on-one conversation that dove deeper into their careers and backgrounds.
The highlight of the morning, however, was a presentation from Deion Shepherd, a graduate of The First Tee and a participant in the 2014 Brightspot Pro-Am. Deion, who recently completed his freshman year at St. John Fisher College, returned to Brightspot this summer as a software development intern. During his talk he spoke to group about what brought him back to Brightspot, his experience as a summer intern, and what he has learned from the opportunity. Hearing from a peer, who a few years prior sat in the same seat, was an impressionable moment for the golfers on this year’s trip.
Following their visit to Brightspot, the group headed to downtown DC, where they toured a variety of Smithsonian museums. After a quick pizza dinner at the base of the Washington Monument, the group met up with a tour guide, who led them on a memorable walk down the Reflecting Pool weaving from monument to monument, ending at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The powerful moments at the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Vietnam War Memorial were made even more poignant by their experience the day before, playing alongside wounded veterans, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hoisting the Crystal at TPC Potomac
After meeting their teammates at a celebratory welcome picnic on Sunday evening, the golfers took to the course on Monday, June 26, to compete in the Brightspot Pro-Am at TPC Potomac in Bethesda, MD, to kick off the 2017 QL National. These unique fivesomes—comprised of wounded veterans, Special Olympics athletes, youth golfers, and a PGA Tour professional—faced off against each other and other event sponsors in a best ball shamble.
After 18 holes, the group of Dave Romanowsky, a retired Air Force Technical Sergeant, who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple heart; Blake Brantley from The First Tee of the Triad; Nikita Patel from The First Tee of Greater Houston; Matthew Gang, a Special Olympics golfer from Northern Virginia; and Wyndham Clark, a PGA TOUR Rookie and 2017 Pac-12 Champion, emerged on top of the leaderboard. For Clark, the win on Monday was just the start, as he earned his first career cut in just his second professional event.
Prior to departing for home on Thursday evening, after a week full of inspiration both on and off the course, the 18 golfers from The First Tee shared personal notes with their Special Olympics and veteran teammates describing the impact of their experience on the course together and the lessons they would take back to their communities. These notes and the words in them symbolize the power of playing unified and the lasting impact on all those involved.
Over the past 5 years, Brightspot has created one of the most unique events on the PGA TOUR and inspired hundreds of golfers with stories of perseverance. From the fist bumps after a clutch putt to the hugs between teammates at celebration dinner at Top Golf, the Brightspot Unified Challenge continues to demonstrate the power of playing and living unified.