High school teacher and class in Metairie, Louisiana, building miniature golf course for paralyzed golfers
Erich Sollenberger’s philosophy is, “try to make any space a better place.” As a high school teacher at Grace King High School in Metairie, Louisiana, he tries to impart this philosophy to the members of the Horticulture Club, which he organizes. The club’s members are severely autistic, yet they have taken on the admirable, nearly Herculean task of building a miniature golf course for kids with another sort of problem: They’re paralyzed.
The result of their awe-inspiring efforts is a 9-hole course, whose greens measure 36′ by 20′. 36″ of concrete completely encircles each green, allowing a wheelchair total access.
“I have had many speaking engagements,” says Sollenberger, “and I can tell you that the audiences are confused about kids with broken necks playing [miniature golf]. [Then] I pull out an electric putter that fits onto a wheelchair, and I get big fat smiles all around. That’s when they start to get it.”
As if the course construction were not a grand enough engineering feat for a high school club, the putter, which was custom-constructed by biomedical engineers at Tulane University, is literally an engineering marvel. It is the only one of its kind on the planet. The putter fits onto any wheelchair, and can be operated even by golfers who are paralyzed from the neck down.
Sollenberger explains how it works: “The putter has an up and down mechanism run by a battery. The battery lifts the putter over the pavers that outline the course. [The player] lifts the putter by a toggle switch near his thumb and chest. Each person that uses the putter will be different and we will have to adjust. Once the wheelchair bound person gets to the ball he runs into the ball to propel it forward.”
Sollenberger has asked the Tulane team to design a second putter which, he hopes, will be somewhat more technologically advanced.
Before his death, Christopher Reeve visited the course, thanking Sollenberger and his students for building a course that he could play. He challenged Sollenberger to a game when the course was complete – a challenge that was left unfulfilled.
The miniature golf course is very near completion, but there is still much work to do, including building more putters so that more than one person can play at a time without moving it from wheelchair to wheelchair and re-adjusting it each time.
The Horticulture Club is a non-profit organization, which would benefit greatly from the holiday charity of golfers who would like to help bring putt-putt to the lives of the paralyzed, and a real sense of accomplishment and service to the autistic members of the club.
They are indeed making their space into a better place.
Those of you who would like to donate to this wonderful project can contact Erich Sollenberger at 504-888-7334 (Grace King High School).
Erich Sollenberger, golfer DJ, and the one-of-a-kind putter for the paralyzed at the course in Metairie, Louisiana
|« New favorite golf movie (after Caddyshack): The Greatest Game Ever Played||Walking is best, and doesn't mean you have to carry your clubs »|
a...how did you find out about this glorious project?
b...how can 2000 people comment on the smarmy "Wie Warrior" blogs we write, and ignore one like this?
c...can we thank you enough for bringing this to light?
a) Sollenberger contacted TG
b) Our nation's priorities are all screwed up.
c)People always say, "Don't shoot the messenger," but rarely say, "Don't praise the messenger" (esp. in our business). In this case, don't waste time thanking me; thank Sollenberger and his students, preferably with a donation.