For another year, multiple golf teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the United States gathered in Cary, NC for the SAS HBCU Invitational Tournament. The tournament was part of the SAS Championship, a week-long event filled with networking, fun and golf.
As part of the event, 16 teams from 13 HBCUs play alongside legends of the PGA Tour Champions. But before the student athletes hit the greens of Prestonwood Country Club, they gathered at SAS headquarters for a career day event focused on learning, networking and growth. SAS employees hosted the event and shared their experiences with the student athletes.
The day began with an enriching panel session that shed light on the types of employment opportunities available at SAS, piquing the interest of many in attendance who will be in the workforce soon. Students and coaches appreciated the opportunity for these student athletes to take hold of potential opportunities ahead of them.
During the event, I caught up with coaches, students and SAS employees who spoke to the inspirational aura around the entire event. Keep reading to hear what some of them had to say.
The importance of meshing academic success with golf
Leonard Smoot, head coach of the Miles College golf team, prides himself on mentoring the young minds he leads. Smoot says he takes some of what he learned in his 24 years as a US Marine and applies it when teaching his players that success begins in the classroom. Smoot’s wisdom goes beyond the golf course and into every journey his students embark upon.
His message was clear: failures are not the end but a chance to rise anew. He emphasized the importance of setting a solid foundation for the future through hard work, discipline and preparation that begins long before taking your first swing.
“My thing to my team is, hey, I need you to focus on what it’s going to take for you to be successful out in the world,” Smoot said. “Because this is what college is – just preparing you to get ready. And hold yourself accountable. Put your best foot forward. Preparation doesn’t start on the day you play; it starts several days and weeks before.”
Smoot says he has “boardroom conversations” with his players, just like an employee might have with a manager.
“We sit and write on a whiteboard about discipline and achieving a certain number on the golf course. We also talk about current events. We have open dialogue,” Smoot said. “We have open conversations about how to function in a society where everybody’s different with different backgrounds. We have that kind of open dialogue to help them to be able to deal with anybody they come face to face with. I think that has helped them achieve all the things that they want to.”
One thing Smoot said he’d want his student-athletes to take away from the tournament and the career day is to continue to form relationships and to see the value in those relationships.
“Even with the folks at SAS, you never know what the opportunity might be in front of you,” Smoot said. “And to just enjoy themselves. Don’t focus on winning. Focus on having fun, meeting new people and learning.”
Golf: A relaxing game that teaches patience
Many of the student athletes also spoke about their love of golf and the career day event's networking opportunities.
Saika Charles, a junior journalism major at Alabama State University, began golfing at 16 and fell in love with the game. Despite not golfing for many years, she now golfs daily and says golf isn’t just a sport for her; it is a source of wisdom. When asked about one thing golf taught her, she quickly said patience.
“My journey hasn’t been that long, but I’ve learned so much throughout the years,” Charles said. “Golf is really great, and you can use principles of golf on and off the course. It has really helped me be a more patient person, too.”
Emmanuel Jakisa, a junior math major at Livingstone College, echoed the sentiment. For him, golf is a solace amidst academics. It has been a way to balance the pressures of succeeding in the classroom.
“Golf helps me stay fit and balance stress after class. You know, being a math major, you have to brainstorm all day. But after that, I play golf, relax and forget about everything and then come back to finish my homework.”
Jakisa says golf has also opened doors to opportunities he’s taking full advantage of.
“Golf has also helped me find big chances and meet people in the field of math, like during my time at SAS,” Jakisa said. “This event is something big for me and has me eager to go out and play on this golf course. I missed last year’s event, so I have been waiting to play, meet new people, and find new chances.”
Learning from SAS leaders
Jenn Chase, Chief Marketing Officer at SAS said the event symbolized the evolution of the SAS Championship becoming more than just a golf tournament.
“What we’re doing here with the HBCU Invitational is a perfect example,” Chase said. “We’re creating this platform for these players on the course, but then also creating this content for them off the course. Though golf will be a part of their lives forever, it might not be their career. So, I love that we have the chance to engage with these student-athletes about what their careers might look like after their collegiate days and how SAS might be able to be a part of that.”
Chase showed great insight Into the strengths of athletes when I asked her about the one piece of advice she would offer them about the future: “They probably have a level of discipline they don’t even realize right now,” Chase said. “And that’s going to be a superpower for them as they move on to their careers. I think from a career perspective, one takeaway I have is that many people didn’t have a linear path to where they are today. So I would tell them: don’t be afraid to follow your passion. There are so many opportunities ahead for all of them.”
As part of the event, the student-athletes got to chat with SAS leaders like Chase and ask them questions. They also heard from a SAS employee who was once in their shoes.
Kayla Jones, a Sr. Associate Technical Training Consultant at SAS, played college golf at Savannah State University, and her presence on stage during the panel session made it easy for student athletes to see their future in the work world. Jones was proof that there are technical careers out there for student athletes, especially If they work hard and apply their skills to their careers.
Jones said golf has taught her patience and improved her communication skills, which she says she uses daily at work. When I asked her for her top advice for the student-athletes, she shared an important suggestion:
“My one thing is I hope they talk to somebody today that they can talk to again in a couple of months. Because that one person can be the connect you need,” Jones said. “Find at least one person you can grab a number, email or LinkedIn account from.”
Ultimately, the SAS HBCU Invitational and the accompanying career day offered more than just a golf tournament. The event reflects the core values at SAS of diversity, equity, inclusion, innovation and education. It provided a tangible platform for SAS to live and breathe these values authentically.
I could tell that those in attendance were visibly proud of the event and are looking forward to continuing to do more in the future.