Good golf part of the prep experience for Jefferson frosh

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Acting and other extracurricular school activities are big for Jefferson freshman Aliemah Bradley, but she still managed to qualify for the Class 5A state golf tournament.As versatile, golf wunderkind Aliemah Bradley struts through the halls of Jefferson High after school, her mind is overwhelmed by the plethora of classroom doors and opportunities they hold.

“I don’t think there is a club I wouldn’t be a part of, but time doesn’t permit me to be all over the place,” she says.

If the Jefferson freshman is going to proceed, she wants to dive face first, and ideally hold a leadership role.

“It’s not even about being in charge, it’s being able to express your opinion without having to go through this person and that person, just being able to say, ‘Hey, this is what I think,’ ” Bradley says.

For now, Bradley has chosen golf, the Black Student Union and mock trial as her avenues of influence.

Though she says “golf isn’t my number one priority,” it’s been arguably the most acclaimed activity in her young high school career.

Although she has played golf for only four years, Bradley immediately climbed toward the top of the totem poll, placing second in the Portland Interscholastic League 5A season standings and qualifying for the state tournament.

“She’s gone from a raw beginner to being in the top 20 high school girls right now,” says Shanda Imlay, who coaches the Cleveland High girls but also is Bradley’s offseason coach and a teaching pro at Stone Creek Golf Club in Oregon City.

However, despite her promising golf career, Bradley says her biggest life accomplishment was being cast as part of the ensemble for “A Christmas Story” on Portland Center Stage when she was in sixth grade.

“It was so much fun,” she says. “At the time, I was in competitive swimming and left the team for three months. It was amazing because it was my first professional experience.”

With regard to her golf career, she’s most proud of posting a 78 last year at Albany Golf & Event Center.

“That was a big deal to me, because I played the way I wanted to that day,” she says. “Every round I have certain goals, and I met all my goals and stayed focused.

“I was in my zone the entire time.”

However, she says she didn’t win the tournament because the day before she was paired with an old friend and, after starting off slowly, she found herself more focused on catching up, rather than on nailing putts.

“When I don’t play well, I’m like, ‘Oh, never mind then,’ and I just start talking. It’s a bad habit,” Bradley admits.

Because of her active mind and collaborative personality, Bradley says she’s an odd fit for the sport of golf.

“I don’t like to focus on one thing for way too long,” she says. “When you’re putting, you need to be focused, and not on your phone half the time.”

Plus, she is allergic to grass, which she remedies by taking allergy shots and medication. However, her allergies still present challenges.

“It gets real,” she says. “I’ve had a few allergy attacks on the golf course.”

Bradley thinks she hasn’t had a good year on the links, and, because of her other commitments, hasn’t practiced as much as she would like.

“I haven’t been putting in enough work outside of competition days,” she says. “I’ll start practicing two days before competition and then go out and expect to shoot a good score. I think I have not set myself up to play really good golf.”

Bradley also has dealt with a nagging back injury that could keep her out of the state tournament.

“I have a bad back right now. My coaches and me need to decide if I will play through it or not. It’s a little bit frustrating,” Bradley says.

Bradley doesn’t want to risk reinjuring herself for the sake of competing at state, May 19 and 20 at Emerald Valley Golf and Resort in Creswell.

“You can’t just play because you want to play,” she says. “You have to think about things like that if you want to become an elite athlete.”

And, after dipping her feet into a couple of other activities, golf has been relegated to second fiddle on Bradley’s imposing agenda.

“It’s just transitioning into more of a backseat,” she says.

For the Black Student Union, which meets regularly to discuss race-related issues and organizes events such as the Black History Month Assembly, Bradley finds herself already in a position of power.

Her classmates call on her to make the important phone calls.

“I go and tap into all the resources to make sure it’s done. If we need to call the president of the Moda Center, then I call the president of the Moda Center,” she says.

As far as the mock trial team goes, she gets a kick out of being able to express her opinions and present logical arguments.

“I like arguing in a formal way, trying to get across your opinion. That stuff is fun for me,” she says.

Bradley just loves to collaborate with other people.

“Doing things with other people and being creative with other people. That’s when I’m happiest,” she says.

However, in golf, not only does her own success rest squarely on her shoulders, but she also doesn’t have teammates, as Jefferson doesn’t have a golf team.

So, instead of having a team to motivate her and take her to practice, she just has herself, her mom and Richard Fortson, a former Jefferson coach.

“My mom usually picks me up, and we go practice after school,” she says. “She likes to watch, and she likes to be involved in what I’m doing. She’s a very supportive mom.”

Fortson provides nuggets of wisdom before competitions.

“I know just as much about golf as he does,” Bradley says, “but on a competitive level, he makes sure I’m in a good space for me to compete.”

Bradley says she doesn’t think a team environment would motivate her to spend more time working on her game.

“I don’t think it’s hard to motivate myself to practice,” she says. “There are just a lot of other things I can do with my time. I think if I were on a team, it would be the same way.”

She also says she doesn’t lack support from her fellow Democrats. Her classmates regularly encourage her to do Jefferson proud.

“Even though there isn’t a golf team, people know that I’m the golf team,” she says.

Bradley says students will show support to whoever is representing Jefferson in the realm of athletics.

“If you’re going out there wearing a Jefferson T-shirt and playing a sport, people are like, ‘Yes, go out there, kill ‘em, do your thing.’ ”

At the twilight of her booked schedule, Bradley has a little time to have some fun with her friends and fellow athletes.

“I like being around my friends. I like shopping and normal girl things, getting my nails done,” she says.

Bradley says two of her best guy friends play basketball and two of her best girl friends play volleyball. On Saturdays, they use the little free time they have to hang out together.

“My close friends are all playing elite sports, too. We’re all like, ‘Let’s go to the movies on Saturday,’ ” she says.

Though they encourage Bradley, she says her friends don’t know the first thing about golf. She adds that golf just isn’t an attractive sport to most high school kids, especially girls.

“I think being a girl, it’s not one of those sports that’s cool. It’s cool to play volleyball or be a cheerleader,” she says.

Bradley says she has tried to recruit her friends to join her on the links, but the only luck she’s had is with her sister, who has designated golf as her second favorite sport, behind basketball.

Imlay says that during the past 10 to 15 years, there has been a noticeable decline among girls golfers in urban areas of Portland.

Imlay explains: “It’s not economical, and it’s the lack of exposure on golf courses. It’s also a very time-consuming activity. Our tee time starts at 1 p.m.. We have to be at golf course by 11:30 a.m., and we aren’t off the course until 6-6:30.”

Bradley agrees.

“It’s not easy for time management, keeping up with activities and playing this silly game chasing a white golf ball around,” she says.

But Bradley does her due diligence to keep up on the golf course, in the classroom and with other activities.

“I like to be very busy,” she says. “I like to have things to do.”

As just a freshman, Bradley realizes that eventually, she must specialize.

“I could decide I want to play college golf, or I could decide I’m really into the arts and I’m going to stick to that. Or I could decide I’m going to go to school on an academic scholarship, so I’m going to really focus on my test scores,” she s ays. “I think I’m a freshman and I’m figuring it out.”

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