The same swing that helped St. Ursula Academy golf standout Brandi Berends land an athletic scholarship at the University of Michigan led her to become the new program director for the Toledo-Lucas County Police Athletic League.
Formerly Brandi Zielinski, the St. Ursula Academy 2002 alumna led her team to state tournaments in golf all four years she was in high school, never finishing lower than 10th herself.
Mrs. Berends, 24, said she's loved the sport "probably since I was old enough to hold a golf club."
Her sister, Heather, also played a fierce game at Notre Dame Academy and Purdue University. Now Mrs. Berends' 2-year-old daughter, Riley, has a toddler-size set of clubs.
Toledo police Sgt. Tom Youngs is supervisor of the athletic league and a self-described golf enthusiast who organizes the league's annual golf outing fund-raiser, which is planned this year for June 23 at Eagle's Landing Golf Club in Oregon.
He said he knew of Mrs. Berends from her prep golf reputation and his daughters spoke highly of her as an assistant manager at the Golf Galaxy store, where they worked together.
"She's always on top of stuff. She's the hardest worker over there," Sergeant Youngs said of his daughters' recommendation. "So I walked into Golf Galaxy one day."
Though they had never met, he asked her to apply for program director, the new position created as part of the $1 million federal grant the organization received in January.
Because Mrs. Berends' hiring is the first use of the grant money, she represents a sort of turning point for the coed athletic league that offers baseball, basketball, boxing, and tutoring to at-risk youths.
The group formed in January, 1996, as a satellite of the national Police Athletic League. Toledo police Officer Mary Beth Stachura ran the league on her own with a "pamphlet and a pen" until Sergeant Youngs was assigned in 2001 to help, she said.
Ms. Stachura said she learned to stretch the league's meager budget - about $450 in 2001, based mostly on small grants and bake sales - to dress up to 477 young athletes, award trophies, and provide food and hotels for the league's traveling basketball team.
The $1 million boost will allow the organization to hire two additional staff members, soon move its offices into the former Leverette Junior High School, 1111 East Manhattan Blvd., and maybe even create a music program, Sergeant Youngs said.
Mrs. Berends, who lives in West Toledo, said she's looking forward to working with young athletes again. She was a guest coach at St. Ursula after high school.
She said she'll promote athletics to young people as a way to help establish and reach goals.
"The biggest thing is, I look at how far it's gotten me. I got a scholarship to Michigan because of that sport. It just has to make a difference for other kids, too," Mrs. Berends said.
"If we can help one kid and make a difference. And who knows, get 'em to college."
Contact Bridget Tharp at: