Rosaforte Report: Parkland Tragedy Weighs Heavily on Golf Teams
By Tim Rosaforte, February 19, 2018, 11:00 am, from the Honda Classic at PGA National
Amanda Okulanis was on the Sawgrass side of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on Thursday [February 14, 2018] away from the 1200 building that largely housed ninth-graders and where most of her 17 classmates were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, FL.
For Okulanis, who could hear the shots while evacuating, the survivor’s remorse has already kicked in.
“It could have been anyone of us,” said Okulanis, the captain and No. 1 player on the Stoneman Douglas girls’ golf team. “It was just timing and where you were.”
Okulanis, 18, works part time in outside operations at Heron Bay Golf Club and is a pro shop attendant at TPC Eagle Trace, not far away from Parkland in Coral Springs. [At the time of this interview…] She just returned from her second funeral on Sunday afternoon when we spoke. Among those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time was Cara Loughran, the 14-year-old daughter of Eagle Trace superintendent Damian Loughran. Cara’s brother, Liam, survived.
“Both of the funerals I sat through today, both of their families spoke over and over again about their smiles and how they were the most amazing kids with unlimited potential,” Okulanis said. “And how they brought such happiness to this world.”
As a Bright Futures Scholarship recipient, Okulanis will be attending the University of Central Florida in the fall and play club golf. She wants to become a CPA and work as a CFO for a large corporation or professional sports team.
“She was a natural born leader,” said Devin Schaller, the girls’ golf coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “We had a young team and as the season went on she grew as a person and it really showed. She was the glue we needed.”
A Teacher’s Perspective
Schaller, who teaches U.S. and world history, was evacuating students in the midst of the shooting, but was able to send out a group text. All his girls checked in, but some had been in Building 1200, where most of the shootings took place.
“We’re all trying to be cohesive and moving forward in unison with one another,” said Schaller. “It’s just such a horribly unique experience.”
The boys’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas had his own horrific experience. In addition to coaching golf and softball, Brian Staubly works as a security officer at MSD and was just outside the door where the shooter was reloading. He was ordered back just before another round of gunfire. He lost two friends and colleagues in the shooting.
Among those Staubly led to safety in the school’s auditorium was Evan Kuperman, a 16-year-old sophomore on his fall team. Kuperman’s older sister was in the 1200 building and wasn’t responding to texts or calls for an hour after the shooting. She survived. You can imagine the impact that’s had on his life and his family’s.
“My son, he’s been affected, like all the kids have been affected,’’ said his father, Craig.
Kuperman started playing golf at 13. In a short time, he has advanced past the local level in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, has won U.S. Kids tournaments and represented the Junior Golf Association in Broward County in state events. He also competes on the South Florida PGA Challenge and Championship tours.
Solace of Golf
Thinking it would be therapy, Evan Kuperman went to the range at Parkland to hit balls on Friday.
He signed up for a Gold Coast junior event in Miami on Sunday, put his clubs in his high school bag, and wore the team shirt in competition. Unable to concentrate, he withdrew after nine holes.
On his Twitter feed, @Evankup13, Kuperman has tweeted with the hashtag #DouglasStrong. Motivated by Parkland, recently named the safest city in Florida, he has not been shy about retweeting gun control messages.
“It’s something no kid should go through,” he told me. “There’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote when you walk into the front gates of the school that says, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ It’s stuck to a lot of us.”
Okulanis added, “I would definitely say the thing that’s helped the most is just being surrounded by all of the students. And the voices that have come out of this are really comforting, just knowing our school is being well represented and we are all healing as a community and we are not alone.”
Your school has had such a tremendous voice that’s being heard, not only in your hometown, but also around the world, it’s been incredible. Evan, I know you’re on Twitter and reposting tweets that are a byproduct of this. What’s your take on the way your school has stepped up?
“I think our school is a really special community. They’re really making a change and I think that they’ll [Florida State Legislature and Congress] take action sooner or later,” Kuperman said. “This is an A+ school, it’s in a very safe community, so none of us have ever had an experience of any crime like this before. This [tragedy] really hit our community hard, and a lot of us are working hard to try and make some changes and make our schools safer.”
There are wristbands and ribbons being worn by players [professional golf players at the recent Honda Classic at PGA International where Okulanis and Kuperman were interviewed] that were given to them by Nicholas Thompson, a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. What does it mean to you that [professional athletes] and other pro sports teams around the country are stepping up?
“It means a lot,” Okulanis said. “I’ve loved the school every year that I’ve been there. To see that now it’s being recognized, unfortunately for a tragedy, I think that even more so it’s being recognized because it is so special. Our students are so special. I feel really honored that they [professional athletes and sports teams] are doing this and it’s great that they’re supporting us.”
Kuperman agreed. “It’s crazy to see how all these top athletes are supporting our school – wearing ribbons, bracelets, some patches on jerseys. It’s just crazy to see how all these athletes are coming together and supporting our school and it really means a lot.”
Within the golf community down there, I know you experienced a tragedy. Amanda, you work part time at both Eagle Trace and Heron Bay, but at Eagle Trace there was a loss that I know that you felt along with everyone that works there.
“Yes. Unfortunately, our superintendent lost his daughter, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She was in that 1200 building and it really hits close to home when you know them,” Okulanis said. “I personally know a few of the other victims, but definitely in the workplace all of us are grieving together. It definitely hits home; it makes it feel real.”
Evan, has golf helped you at all, the actual playing of it, kind of in a way of channeling away some of the emotions that you have and being able to escape?
“Definitely. Hitting balls has gotten my mind off of it a little bit, but it’s still in the back of my mind,” Kuperman said. “I’ve tried playing a round, it didn’t go very well. I think it’s going to hurt the most when we go back to school. All of us are going to feel it then. It still hasn’t processed in our heads and we’re just shocked right now.”
Amanda, you’re going up to the University of Central Florida on a Bright Futures Scholarship. I don’t know how much golf you’ve been able to play because I know you’re working while school has been closed. Has golf in any way sort of provided some sort of outlet for you in a sense?
“Yes, it definitely has. I mean, I’ve been playing golf for 6 or 7 years now, so anytime I go out now I really cherish it and I still enjoy the sport just as much as when I started it,” Okulanis said. “So definitely, getting out on the course just with nature by myself or with friends, it brings some comfort, but it also lets reality set in so that we can all start to mourn and grieve and not move on, but move forward.”
Editor’s note: Many thanks to Golf Channel for kindly granting permission to republish this transcript after it aired on television and www.golfchannel.com. To watch the video interview go to www.internationalopulence.com.
Players Honor Victims of Parkland School Shooting
By Ryan Lavner, Golf Channel, February 22, 2018, 3:36 pm, from Honda Classic at PGA National
PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of [the 2018] Honda Classic.
“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”
The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.
Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”
(left to right)
Alyssa Alhadeff, 14; Martin Anguiano, 14; Scott Beigel, 35; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Aaron Feis, 37; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Christopher Hixon, 49; Luke Hoyer, 15; Cara Loughran, 14; Alex Schachter, 14; Gina Montalto, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Alaina Petty, 14; Meadow Pollack, 18; Helena Ramsay, 17; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Peter Wang, 15