Student tees up bright future for self, Muskegon Heights

Devon Kitchen's persistence led to creation of Muskegon Heights golf team

Devon Kitchen's persistence translated to a golfing program in Muskegon Heights. (April 19, 2016)

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Devon Kitchen is one of those teens from Muskegon Heights, but he is not one of the teens that so often make it into the headlines.

After a few minutes talking to Kitchen, it’s hard not to think that he can do just about anything he puts his mind to. Through sheer force of will, the 17-year-old prompted changes to make an area known for violence and poverty known for something else.

“I wanted to bring something new to Muskegon Heights,” he said. “Something that we’re not just known for violence anymore or basketball. Let’s put out there that we have a golf team and that last year we actually competed at a very high level for our first year.”

Kitchen, a multi-sport athlete already on the track and football team at Muskegon Heights Academy, took to the game of golf with the help of a neighbor. The high school senior decided a golf team would be a good thing for the school. When he took the idea to district leaders, they found he is a force to be reckoned with.

“‘Just let him have his little idea,'” he thinks they thought. “I didn’t think they were thinking I was going to come back as much as I did, for sure.”

He couldn’t remember exactly board members he went to, but said it was probably between eight and 10. He said that while he hopes decision-makers recognized the value of his ideas, he also recognized they probably just wanted to stop hearing about golf at every meeting.

Kitchen said he plans to travel after he graduates in June. But while golf may give him a way up, he is not looking for a way out of his home.

“Everybody who leaves Muskegon says, ‘I never want to come back to the Heights.’ I’m against that totally because this city with all its drama, all this good and bad, has made me who I am,” Kitchen said.

The crime that has so defined Muskegon Heights in the minds of many has touched Kitchen personally. His cousin, Ja-mall Kitchens, was shot to death last week in a homicide that remains unsolved. He feels that he plays now not only for himself, but also for his parents and his departed cousin.

Kitchen said golf has already made an impact in the Heights.

“Not only did their scores drop, but their GPAs went up, they became better in the classroom and the teachers saw a major improvement out of all our golf team, even the ones who weren’t participating in the matches,” Kitchen said.

He believes that golf can help not only the students, but also the entire community.

“The crime rate in Muskegon Heights is between the ages 12 to 16 and we have a whole school of kids 12 to 16,” he said. “If we can take 10 to 12 of them off the streets for six hours at a time, something has to get lower, right?”

Kitchen’s coach, Ryan Smith, agrees and said that Kitchen is one of many success Muskegon Heights stories that the headlines often don’t show. Smith said golf could help develop more students like Kitchen.

“You’ll meet on the course and talk about business and stuff like that, but it also builds friendships and it’ll also help you get a job later down the road, so I think golf’s very impactful lifelong,” Smith said.

Kitchen said he is looking at potential scholarship offers from several schools, but is thinking about joining the U.S. Navy.

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