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The legend and legacy of Billy Brent: Inspiring students with a game of golf
He's "Coach Billy" to his golfing students and "Billy B" to his golfing buddies. How Billy Brent came to be a golfer is somewhat of a legend. What's he's given to the game of golf is a pure legacy.
The national First Tee organization recently honored him for that.
It was 1976 when the former Army Airborne Ranger Billy Brent was prodded by co-workers into playing a round of golf. Modifying his baseball swing, he shot a 49 on the front nine.
"They liked my swing. They called me Mr. Smooth. So, I started winning trophies. I said, 'I like this.' So, I kept playing," he said.
Kept playing indeed. Billy Brent played so well he was asked to caddy for some of the greats. He even earned his card and made it to the PGA Senior Tour himself.
"My idol was Calvin Peete. Charlie Sifford was out there. You had Jim Dent. You had a few others, Walt Morgan," he said.
Not content to just play the game, Billy B. wanted to teach it and bring the game to young people who might otherwise never set foot on a golf course. He found the perfect place and came on board with the founding of the First Tee chapter in Northwest Florida.
His contributions are endless - board member, donor, mentor, instructor.
His passion was felt by his family.
"Even my wife is involved in that," he explained. "She lets me pick a student and I carry that student all the way up to high school and make sure they get into high school and play and she sponsors them. She pays the bills because I get an allowance. I wouldn't be able to pay it."
One of his many prized students, Madelyn Dimitroff, was about to give up the game of golf. Coach Billy convinced her to stay. His guidance helped launch her to a national stage.
"She was at Pebble Beach last year representing Pensacola; with First Tee in Pebble Beach last year. She played with Joe Durant," he said.
They landed a fourth-place finish. That commitment was just one of the things that landed Coach Billy on the winner's platform at the National First Tee Awards Banquet this year. He received the George H. W. Bush Volunteer Award.
Marty Stanovich, First Tee of NWFL Executive Director Marty Stanovich says it's an honor well deserved.
"When you talk about a man who started his career jumping out of perfectly good airplanes in Vietnam as an Airborne Ranger, but then came back and not only was a computer programmer and worked a government job, but he gave more time outside mentoring, teaching, creating a scholarship program," she said. "It's all of the things that Billy does outside of the First Tee that truly makes him worthy of this honor."
As much as the love of the game, it is those young golfers who motivate Coach Billy.
"To be able to see the kids make it that otherwise would not have a chance," he said.
Angels In Our Midst is sponsored by Nemours Children's Specialty Care.