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In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Dave Hackenberg talked with Terry Awls, general manager of Sylvania Country Club.
On one hand, it's not all that far from Birmingham Terrace in East Toledo to Sylvania Country Club. On the other hand, it's a million miles.
Terry Awls made the trip with plenty of stops along the way. Raised in what he calls "the projects" by a single mother, Awls in April, 2007 became the first African-American to be named general manager at a private country club in the Toledo metro area.
For the last three months, Hiram Clarke Films, in conjunction with Toledo-based Cool Media Productions, has been shooting a documentary based on Awls' life that will be released in the fall through film festivals, cable TV, and other electronic media outlets.
It will likely touch on his first job at a McDonald's to being a head cook at Old Country Buffet, from washing dishes to running the men's locker room to becoming service manager at Inverness Club, to assuming the top job at Sylvania Country Club.
Awls, 36, attended both Macomber and Waite high schools and earned a degree in culinary arts from Monroe County Community College in Michigan. On the side, he has served as an assistant coach in both basketball and golf at Start, Ottawa Hills, and St. John's Jesuit high schools. He and his wife, Christina, have three children.
"BIRMINGHAM TERRACE to Sylvania is worlds apart and it has been a great journey from one to the other. I grew up in an area with gangs and drugs and walls as thin as paper. My mom raised me along with my twin sister, and she did it with a lot of prayer and a lot of faith that God would take care of us. My father wasn't exactly absent; he just didn't live with us. He gave me advice, good advice, and I have an uncle, Sylvester Awls, who gave me tremendous guidance. I call him Pops. There was a teacher at Waite, Omar Drummond, who meant a lot to me. He was one of the first black men I saw projecting professionalism with a nice suit on everyday. He was very hard on me and it was a long time until I really appreciated it. His message was nobody gives you anything worthwhile, that you have to work hard to earn it. I realize now why he was pushing me."
"I WAS A head cook at Old Country Buffet, and the chef from Inverness Club came in with his family for dinner one night. He suggested I look into a job at the club. I'd never heard of Inverness. What I knew about golf clubs was Collins Park over on the east side. I got directions and I drove through the entrance and pulled up to the building and thought, 'Oh, my God.' I started at the bottom in December, 1995, washing dishes and then working in salad preparation. Inverness sent me to culinary school and then I took a $2 [an hour] pay cut to go to the front of the house and be on the wait staff and work banquets. I knew making that move might provide me with a future. You know the old saying about first finding a job you love and the money will come later. Maybe that's easier to say when you come from no money. But that was the case. Plus, my goal was to become an employee who knew every department so well that I'd be too valuable to get rid of."
"I TOOK over as locker room manager around 2000 and eventually I became the service manager in charge of the locker rooms, the pool and the food service at the pool, the halfway house on the course, the snack bar at the 10th tee turn, and oversaw a lot of a la carte services and banquets. Being involved in many aspects of the 2003 U.S. Senior Open was a tremendous experience, and I can never thank the people at Inverness enough for all they did for me. I hope they felt I was a good investment."
"IN JANUARY, 2007, I heard that Sylvania Country Club and Highland Meadows were both looking for general managers and I got approval from the board [of directors] at Inverness to apply. Nothing happened until early April when I was contacted by Sylvania. I was nervous as all get out. But two days after the interview they put a contract in front of me and it was one of the happiest days of my life. I work for a great board and a wonderful membership. I'm truly blessed."
"I UNDERSTAND the significance of me having this job. I know I've done something that my parents, my wife, and my kids can be proud of. A lot of athletes have been role models in this community and we've had some great ones in people like Jimmy Jackson, Todd Mitchell, Jeremy Lincoln, and Nate Washington. Some of them are close friends and they give back to their neighborhoods. I want to do the same. But I'm not 6-foot-4 and don't run the 40 in 4.3 seconds. All I've got is work ethic. That gives me a voice, I guess, and the message is that if I can get to where I always wanted to be, then anybody can realize his or her dreams."