In the beginning, she was driven by a desire to get a high school letter. A few short years later, Jackie Caron had another type of letter sitting in front of her at the Bartow High School cafeteria. It was a letter from University of Arkansas–Monticello, requiring her signature for a scholarship to play golf at the school.
In an afternoon ceremony in front of friends and family members, flanked on each side by her mother and father, Jackie made that commitment to continue her education and her playing career.
Golf coach Chris Banks spoke to the crowd, remembering the first encounter between himself and Jackie.
“I remember when she was in the ninth grade,” Banks said. “She was just trying to make contact with the ball.”
He also told the crowd that if anyone knew anything about Jackie, they would know she was a hard worker who could accomplish anything she set out to do. In the beginning, she only wanted a school letter.
“My dad (Ed) told me the only ways I could get one was to date a football player or participate in a sport myself,” Jackie said. “My dad played golf, so that’s the sport I chose. I had never played the game, only going to the driving range with my dad when I was younger. I wanted to try something new for me, something I hadn’t done and I chose golf.”
Jackie had been a dancer and had played soccer and enjoyed being part of a team. The Bartow High School girls golf teams are historically very successful and it was no different while Jackie was involved.
“I was really excited to make the team and be a part of it,” she said. “I met a lot of good people and had a lot of fun.”
When faced with the next step, Jackie was preparing to attend Alabama, but that wouldn’t help her golf playing goals. Her dad suggested sending out a few recruitment letters. One went to Heather (Burgner) Wall at the University of Arkansas–Monticello. Jackie got a response within 12 hours.
Those who follow golf may recognize the name of the men’s and women’s golf coach at UAM. Heather Burgner still holds many records at Florida Southern College and has played competitive golf on the Futures Tour. She knows the quality of girls golf in Polk County since two members of the 2013 team are from Lakeland.
“I know Linda Williams (UAM golfer from Lakeland) and had heard of Heather,” Jackie added.
Jackie and her family were able to visit the Arkansas town and the college campus and immediately developed a positive feel. While her mother Susan laments the distance between Bartow and Monticello, she is confident her daughter is in good hands.
On the course, Jackie’s strength is her driving, having spent countless hours on the range to improve the skill. Her highlights include the BHS team winning the county tournament and district tournament twice. She credits her father Ed, mother Susan, brother Joseph, sister Jessica Booker and brother-in-law Matt Booker with providing valuable support in achieving the goal. Others who played a key role include Chris Banks, coach Keith Wightman and the Werk family – Dane, Denise and Kylie.
To follow up on her previous visit, Jackie has another one planned soon, hopefully with better conditions to play the college course. In the meantime, she’ll keep working on her game, working on her final nine weeks of high school and get set for the next steps, all brought about in the quest for a high school letter that has become so much more.