As a youngster sharing a two-bedroom apartment with his eight siblings, mother and alcoholic father, Lester Bell Jr. would look out the window across the street at Cedar Creek Golf Course.
"I would picture myself being on the other side of that fence," Bell said. "At age 13 I didn't have anyone to show (me the right way) to live. I was not setting a good example for my younger brothers.
"I moved in with my cousin and since we couldn't get jobs, I would steal for food and clothing and continuing to steal so I could sell stuff and get a profit. These things allowed me to get in trouble with the law and send me down a path with no chance in life."
Golf and the First Tee of Greater Dallas gave Bell an opportunity to change that and he grabbed it. Now a senior at South Grand Prairie High School, Bell is the 2012 First Tee Player of the Year and was keynote speaker for the 2013 First Tee of Greater Tyler Awards Banquet Thursday at the Tyler Rose Garden.
"It's amazing how nine core values can change a person's life," Bell told those in attendance. "The first tee gave me a (blueprint) of life skills that helped shape my thoughts, my decision-making and my golf game, and most importantly my life."
This year's banquet also recognized players, volunteers and community partners with nine awards that represent the nine core values of the First Tee. The mission statement of The First Tee of Greater Tyler is to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.
Timothy Pridgen was named All Around Participant of the Year for his play on the Summer First Tee Tournament Series.
Robby Cano was posthumously awarded the Junior Coach of the Year with executive director Michael Harrison saying of the high school junior who passed away in September, "Robby was a truly special young man."
The First Tee of Greater Tyler, which was started in 2011, has grown to 300 participants.
2nd Annual First Tee of Greater Tyler Awards Banquet
All-Around Participant of the Year — Timothy Pridgen
Junior Coach of the Year — Robby Cano
Players of the Year — Sidney Robertson, 7-9 Girls; Lerow Sparrow, 7-9 Boys; Emma Lindsey, 10-11 Girls; Ethan Dowling, 10-11 Boys; Annaka Watts, 12-14 Girls; Carson Hiltpold, 12-14 Boys; Cole Wilkins, 15-18 Boys.
Nine Core Values Award Winners
Respect — Hugo Cano
Judgment — Jim Hurley
Courtesy — Troy Jackson
Perseverance — Aaron Jackson
Confidence — Jacob Beaumont
Integrity — Rachel Pridgen
Responsibility — Hollytree Men's Golf Association
Sportsmanship — Pro Darrell Chase, Peach Tree-Oak Hurst Golf Course
Honesty — Dyann Kemp, Caldwell Elementary
Thank You Award — Walter Wilhelmi