For decades, the Evans Scholarship has dramatically and positively impacted the lives of young people. And, of late, graduating high school students in Las Vegas are now part of the program that was created by Chick Evans and the Western Golf Association (WGA). Seven Las Vegas students have earned the $125,000 4-year award in 2023, including Aaron Padilla. Here are their inspirational stories.–By Brian Hurlburt, founder, LasVegasGolfInsider.com
Each Vegas student has participated over the last three years and in a summer caddie program in Illinois, a life-changing opportunity in itself. Then each were recently interviewed and judged in four areas: excellent academics, a strong caddie record, a financial need and outstanding character.
“I’m very grateful for the Caddie Academy, the WGA and the Scholarship Foundation because without this scholarship and this whole process, I do not believe I would be able to have the opportunity at such a prestigious university,” says Padilla, who is scheduled to enroll in the University of Washington in the fall of 2023. “I’m very thankful and very appreciative.”
In addition to Padilla, other Las Vegas residents earning the Evans Scholarship were Alondra Garcia-Lopez, Nadia Miranda, McKenna Murray, Jocelyne Rubio, Melany Valenzuela and Amya Zacarias.
“Each student has demonstrated excellence in the classroom, on the golf course and in their communities,” says WGA Chairman Joe Desch. “We are thrilled for them to join an exceptional class of newly awarded Evans Scholars from across the nation.”
The Las Vegas Chapter of the Evans Scholarship is driven by Evans Scholarship alums Tom Fitzgerald and Jack Todd. Receiving the Evans Scholarship decades was life-altering for each and they now pay it forward by working on behalf of Las Vegas students. The results have been significant.
“Seven kids being awarded an Evans Scholarship in 2023 in Las Vegas is a high-water mark so far for our alumni-recruiting efforts locally,” Fitzgerald says. “It is pretty spectacular stuff, especially when we started from zero only eight years ago. We have added new scholars each year with many more in the system for years to come. What is truly important is the genuine help we receive from school guidance counselors. Jack and I have such great admiration for them. They consistently send us the cream of the crop of high-performing freshman students each and every year. We are elated to work with them on behalf of their student bodies.”
Like many Evans Scholarship recipients, Padilla is from a humble background. His father was deported to Mexico and his mother worked very hard to provide for the family.
“This scholarship will definitely take a huge burden off my family, and it gives me the opportunity to continue to work hard and make my family more proud because they have put so much into my life that now I also want to make theirs better,” says Padilla, who caddied at Old Elm Club. “Overall, it was amazing to be a caddy and travel each summer to Chicago. The job itself taught me so many lessons. I learned a lot from very successful people, and the responsibilities helped build character and also my resume.”
There is no doubt these students have earned–not been given–the Evans Scholarship. There were early mornings and to be successful, perseverance was mandatory. For Padilla, there were more than a few stressful moments, including the day he caddied for a person who might have been able to decide his future.
“My most memorable moment was when I caddied for the CEO of the Western Golf Association. John Kaczkowski, because that was my first experience assisting two golfers at the same time,” Padilla says. “Carrying two bags and helping two people was extremely stressful, but definitely a great learning experience. I learned that I needed to work harder and that nothing is impossible. Even though my nerves were going crazy, I was still able to achieve what seemed to be impossible before I made it though that round successfully.”
All seven newly-awarded Las Vegas Evans Scholars participated in the Caddie Academy, a special summer program run by the WGA in the Chicago area that provides caddie opportunities to promising high school students. The program offers students a chance to caddie each day, earn money, meet role models and learn valuable life lessons on the golf course. After completing three summers, participants are eligible to apply for the Evans Scholarship.
Nationwide, an estimated 325 caddies are expected to be awarded the Evans Scholarship in 2023.
The Western Golf Association, headquartered in Glenview, Illinois, has supported the Chick Evans Scholarship Program through the Evans Scholars Foundation since 1930. Known as one of golf’s favorite charities, it is the nation’s largest scholarship program for caddies.
Currently, a record 1,100 caddies are enrolled at 22 universities across the nation as Evans Scholars, and more than 11,800 caddies have graduated as Evans Scholars since the program was founded by famed Chicago amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr.
“These young students represent what our Program has been about since 1930,” says Padilla’s pal, Kaczkowski. “We are proud to welcome them to the Evans Scholars family.”
Scholarship funds come mostly from contributions by more than 36,000 supporters across the country, who are members of the Evans Scholars Par Club program. Evans Scholars Alumni donate more than $15 million annually, and all proceeds from the BMW Championship, the penultimate PGA TOUR Playoff event in the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup competition, are donated to the Evans Scholars Foundation. In 2023, the BMW Championship will be held at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois, from Aug. 17-20.
About the Las Vegas Scholars
Alondra Garcia Lopez is a senior at Advanced Technologies Academy, and she caddied at Evanston Golf Club in Evanston, Illinois. Raised by their single mother, who immigrated from Mexico, Alondra helps care for her two younger sisters.
“In college, I hope to study architecture to create homes and spaces so that feelings of warmth, safety and stability could be felt by others in a way that I wish I had in the past,” she says.
Jocelyne Rubio is a senior at Equipo Academy, and she caddied at Evanston Golf Club in Evanston, Illinois. Jocelyne, along with her three siblings, lost their dad to cancer early in childhood.
“Being a caddie, tutor and active member of my community has made me passionate about my future goals. I hope to major in social work and psychology, and my goal is to eventually become a school counselor and psychologist,” she says. “I’ve learned to value the importance and impact of students’ mental health through my own high school experiences. Additionally, being brought up in a low-income community and household made it difficult to access mental health care professionals when I needed it. One day, I want to return to my community.”
Melany Valenzuela is a senior at Equipo Academy, and she caddied at Evanston Golf Club in Evanston, Illinois. She has two siblings and will be a first-generation high school and college graduate.
“I envision myself becoming an anesthesiologist and helping underrepresented communities that are disproportionately impacted by health issues,” she says. “Being bilingual, my goal is to help Latinx and Hispanic communities who lack access to and understanding of medical resources.”
Aaron Padilla is a senior at Equipo Academy, and he caddied at Old Elm Club in Highland Park, Illinois. He lives with his grandmother, as a result of his father’s deportation and mother’s cancer battle.
“Although caddying and golf is something I do on my own time, my main aspiration is to become an engineer within the STEM field,” he says. “Throughout my life, I have always loved the concept of using mathematics in order to create unique models of forms of transportation. I would often use math to help me design model kits of vehicles and would build them shortly after. This amateur practice of engineering inspired me to continue my pursuit into STEM programs, and would be put to the test when helping my mother with car issues that occurred.”
Nadia Miranda is a senior at Cristo Rey St. Viator College Prep and caddied at Skokie Country Club in Skokie, Illinois. She, along with her four siblings, were raised by their parents, immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador.
“Everyone at the Caddie Academy made me feel validated and comfortable. The skills I learned caddying have helped me be more confident in my everyday life and helped me be able to talk to adults at my workplace,” she says. “Becoming a caddie has really brought me out of my shell and to be able to truly be myself.”
McKenna Murray is a senior at Faith Lutheran High School, and she caddied at Skokie Country Club in Skokie, Illinois. Since her parents’ divorce, McKenna and her sister have been raised by their single mother.
“The WGA Caddie Academy gave me the opportunity to work for many different professional, successful men and women in a safe and welcoming environment. The golfers that I caddied for showed me that the majority of people, even strangers, wish to see others succeed,” she says. “I plan to attend college and major in religious studies with a minor in sociology. After college, I will apply to the FBI in hope of working in the sex-trafficking unit or the behavioral analysis unit.”
Amya Zacarias is a senior at Faith Lutheran High School, and she caddied at Skokie Country Club in Skokie, Illinois. Following her parents’ divorce, she resides with her mother.
“This year, I’m working under an orthopedic surgeon, with the goal of understanding more about sports medicine. I love the idea of helping an athlete at their lowest point and being with them every step of the way on their journey to recovery,” she says. “I also love orthopedics because not many women are in the field. I want to be a part of the sports medicine arena.”