Sara McLaughlin-Cross plans to raise the profile and expand partnerships of The First Tee of the Quad-Cities as she hits the ground running as its first full-time executive director.
First Tee's board of directors announced her appointment Thursday. McLaughlin-Cross, who began the job Monday, most recently served as development director for Illowa Council of the Boys Scouts of America, Davenport.
"Sara's background in development with the Boy Scouts of America and her educational background in sports management made her the strongest candidate," First Tee board chairman Decker Ploehn said.
"To take ourselves to the level of having more locations in the Quad-Cities we needed somebody who did this full-time," he said.
Nearly 90 candidates applied to be the first full-time leader of the nearly 20-year-old youth development organization.
McLaughlin-Cross, 29, is a 2012 graduate of Northern Illinois University, where she attended on a full tennis scholarship, later accepting a graduate assistant coaching position there while pursuing a master's degree in sports management.
She and her husband, Dylan, reside in Moline with their 3-year-old son Augie.
"I am especially excited to work with the board of directors and other dedicated people in the organization who understand the positive impact the First Tee has on our community," said McLaughlin-Cross, a 2008 Moline High School graduate.
First Tee serves the community with teaching facilities at Red Hawk Golf Course in Davenport, Highland Springs Golf Course in Rock Island and Two Rivers YMCA, Moline. During six-week sessions, youth spend time in the classroom and on the golf course with First Tee coaches who reinforce values such as integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf.
An affiliate of The First Tee, an international organization, the program teaches youth nine core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.
"It's more about the nine core values than it is about golf. They just happen to use golf as the vehicle," Ploehn said.
In an interview, McLaughlin-Cross said the program's focus on youth development "is really why I fell in love with this mission. It so aligns with the Boy Scouts' mission — they both teach kids to be amazing kids in their community."
First Tee also partners with the Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley and Big Brothers Big Sisters and offers its National School Program in Quad-City school physical education programs.
"It's neat a lot of youth development nonprofits are coming together," she said. "We're all going for the same goal, why not team up on things."
The organization also now has its first office space, donated by McLaughlin Body at its Moline headquarters.
Ploehn said the Quad-City affiliate reaches nearly 1,000 kids a year "on green grass facilities and over 22,000 kids in the National Schools Program."
He said it was one of the first affiliates to form after First Tee's inception in 1997. Locally, a group of business leaders and Quad-Citians interested in golf led the charge, including Jim Hasley, who then was the golf professional at Davenport's Emeis and Duck Creek golf courses; PGA Golf Professional Brant McGivern, who has been a First Tee coach since the beginning; and Steve Landauer, the nonprofit's original and current treasurer.
The program began after the city of Davenport purchased the former Valley Golf, now Red Hawk, and partnered to make the golf course in northwest Davenport a First Tee facility.