By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
Josh Geer walked up to the first tee at the Firestone Country Club with confidence, determination and his favorite driver in his hand.
The 9-year-old third-grader at Akron's Hatton Elementary school was born with cerebral palsy and has undergone two surgeries on his legs.
Yet there he stood Tuesday afternoon staring down the fairway of one of golf's most renowned courses.
After two practice swings, the 53-pound youngster took a mighty swing and sent the ball sailing about 80 yards down the fairway.
''I feel awesome,'' said Josh, whose drive marked the unofficial beginning of this week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational tournament at Firestone.
The best of the best in the world of golf will play the same fairways when opening rounds begin on Thursday.
Josh's visit to Firestone was made possible by the First Tee chapter of Akron and the Akron General/Edwin Shaw Challenge Golf program.
First Tee is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation that aims to open the world of golf to youngsters of a variety of backgrounds. The Challenge Golf program caters to those with disabilities.
Josh's first shot was followed by a golf clinic for youngsters by duffer Dennis Wal
ters, who was paralyzed from the waist down from an accident in 1974.
Walters, strapped into a swivel chair on the passenger side of a golf cart, hit one long drive after another as he spoke of his own dreams of being a professional golfer.
''I hope to show by my own personal example you should never ever give up on your dreams,'' said Walters to a group of about 25 First Tee participants.
''Dream is a word I want you to think about not only today but every single day of your life,'' said Walter before he clobbered another ball.
But he cautioned the kids that he was not talking about dreams that occur at night.
''A real dream is having a positive thought in your head and having it in your heart and doing whatever it takes to make that dream come true,'' he said.
Even though he was told he couldn't golf after his accident, Walter said he worked hard to prove them wrong.
He came up with the idea of a swivel chair on a golf cart.
''I've encouraged others to reach for their dream, strive for excellence and do something they didn't think they could,'' he said.
Golf has made a big difference in Josh's life, his parents said.
The boy started golfing around the age of 4 and sometimes has to wear braces on his legs to keep steady, said his father, Brian Geer.
Surgeries that have helped improve his walking also enable him to play other sports, including baseball.
''He has a competitive instinct,'' Brian Geer said. ''Golf is a sport he can excel in.''
His mother, Lisa Geer, said her son loves the game.
''This summer, he has golfed the best golf he ever has,'' she said.
Ron Tristano, the manager of the Challenge Golf program that works with First Tee of Akron, said it is ''remarkable how well [Josh] hits the ball with what he has overcome.''
''There is no question, Josh will be a good golfer. He sees he can compete.''
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org.