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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 1, 2011

BKW: A place where competitive golf is flourishing

By Jordan J. Michael

BERNE –– The golfers from Berne-Knox-Westerlo didn’t grow up in country clubs. They don’t have expensive sets of clubs or snazzy shoes. But, the Bulldogs’ keenness for the game and determination has been plenty enough.

It was another successful golf season for BKW. Even though the team didn’t send any players to sectionals, it won its fourth consecutive Western Athletic Conference championship.

“A lot of things go into this game that you wouldn’t normally think about,” said Head Coach Don Dennis, who now has eight WAC titles since starting the team in 1986. He’s the longest tenured golf coach in Section II. “It’s not easy to practice and it costs money. Sometimes, you go up against kids that have thousand-dollar sets of clubs.”

At 11-1, BKW shared the WAC title with Schoharie; the two teams split their matches. It took the Bulldogs a double-tiebreaker to beat Middleburgh and it won a match against Duanesburg in the pouring rain.

With not one senior on the roster this season, BKW overachieved, said Dennis. “Everyone contributed,” he said. “Overall, it was pretty competitive. The players got along well and made every effort to show up and play. I like to win, but they like to win, too.”

Although the BKW players don’t play as much golf during the off-season as Dennis would like them to, he appreciates their total commitment once the season starts in August. “They work hard during practice and that’s why we’ve been so successful here,” Dennis said.

For practice, the Bulldogs go to Ironworks in Duanesburg –– where the team is allowed to play for free –– or use the practice green on BKW school property that Dennis had installed some years ago. For a home match, the team travels to Sycamore in Ravena, which is a “tough course” in Dennis’s opinion.

BKW golfers have been polishing their game at Ironworks for nine years and it’s helped terrifically. Dennis said that his team has an 87-11 record over the last six seasons.

“There’s not much practice time on the real course, but we can’t complain,” Dennis said. “I’d say we do all right for such a small community.”

Sycamore has been BKW’s home course for only a few years. The team used to share a course in Cobleskill with Schoharie and Middleburgh. “Cobleskill never really felt like home because we shared it,” said Dennis. “Now, (in Ravena) we’re winning matches that we used to lose.”

Golf is an individual game, but Dennis likes to stress the team aspect. All seven BKW players made significant contributions at different points in the season.

Dennis named junior Kyle Gibbs the team’s Most Valuable Player after having to play every opponent’s best player throughout the year. Coach Dennis told The Enterprise that Gibbs is steady, smart, and usually keeps the ball in play. “He could be even better if he devoted more time,” Dennis said.

Junior Hunter Fortuin, who attends Tech Valley High, had to get to every match on his own because he didn’t travel with the team. The Tech Valley campus is in East Greenbush. “He made a great commitment,” Dennis said. “Great dedication by him and his parents.”

BKW got long hitting from junior Zach Rebeor and critical play from junior Connor McDermott down the stretch. Sophomores C.J. North, Cory DePeaux, and T.O. O’Connor rounded out the line-up. Dennis named DePeaux his Rookie of the Year.

The entire team will be back for 2012, so BKW should be in the hunt for a fifth straight title. Also, new players will emerge from Rich Holoday’s modified team.

“Golf isn’t easy to coach,” Dennis said. “I give Rich credit for working with the younger kids. You have to have a lot of patience.”

Dennis, 60, retired from teaching at BKW three years ago, but he enjoys coaching too much to leave his post. He used to let interested students borrow golf clubs in hopes of gaining another player. It worked many times.

“Being a good golfer can open a lot of doors,” Dennis said. “Kids don’t really understand that when they’re young, but they eventually find out.”

Many golf coaches will play a round while their team plays a match. Dennis never brings his clubs; he supervises what’s going on. Players govern themselves during a match, which creates an excuse for coaches to play.

“We can’t be referees, but we can help interpret rules and teach lessons,” said Dennis. “Can you call yourself a coach if you’re not paying attention? I like to work with the kids, not distract myself from them.”

Dennis’s first player was Ed Lawson, and things came full circle this season when Lawson’s son, Edwin, joined the modified team. “That was neat,” Dennis said.

In 1987, Dylan Vallequette finished in a five-way tie for the last spot to make the Section II state team. That’s the furthest a BKW golfer has ever gotten, and Vallequette went on to become a caddie for LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association)  and PGA players. Dennis never heard of Vallequette caddying for any “high-profile” professionals, but he’s still out there.

“He made a career out of golf,” Dennis said. “We played an independent schedule when Dylan was here. I remember scrambling to get Dylan enough matches so he could get qualified. He was a great player.”

Over the years, the majority of BKW’s golfers have learned the game from the ground, up. There is no golf course in the Hilltowns. When the season is over, the clubs get put away. Golfers go on to play basketball and baseball.

Whether or not the players are swinging and putting over spring and summer, Dennis is just thankful for having a consistent team every fall.

“I always tease them about the off season because I know nothing really happens,” said Dennis, who has plans for a golf clinic this spring. “Sure, they go to the driving range a few times, right?”

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