CROWN POINT — On the fifth hole Tuesday at White Hawk Country Club, Lake Central sophomore Zach Millard took a seat on the sloped edge of the tee box while the group ahead finished up.
Millard's playing partner, Ben Bosold, joined him. Then, one of Millard's Crown Point opponents plopped down next to the two. The three shared a few moments in the late afternoon sun simply chatting — an everyday moment for some, but the type that Millard cherishes.
Millard, who has Down syndrome, joins the Indians' varsity team for one match per year. As much as he loves playing with his family, he looks forward to his annual match for L.C. all year. He has become a part of the team, and the Indians said they're much better for his inclusion.
“It doesn't matter how badly he hits the ball; he's always smiling,” Lake Central coach RJ Ohlenkamp said. “Golf is a very mentally challenging game, and if you hit a bad shot, it can get stuck in your head. Just seeing Zach always being positive, hopefully it's rubbing off on some of the younger guys.”
At the age of 3, Millard attended his first golf lesson with the Down Syndrome Association. Much of Millard's family loves golf, and he's no exception.
When Millard started high school at Lake Central, his mother, Michelle Millard, set up a meeting with Ohlenkamp with hopes of getting her son a spot as a team manager. Instead, Ohlenkamp gave him the title and also offered to let him practice with the team. Last year, Ohlenkamp dropped a surprise on the Millards: Zach would play one exhibition match per year against one of the Indians' opponents.
Zach Millard joins the Indians once per week, usually Mondays. Rain or shine, warm or cold, he's out there practicing with his teammates. Michelle Millard said she expected that she would have to walk the course with her son, but instead he's out on the course like everybody else.
Even though Zach Millard and Bosold lost their match by one stroke, Zach Millard still wore a wide smile as the two lugged their bags up to the clubhouse after the alternate shot match. Crown Point also won the varsity dual, defeating Lake Central 159-171.
Bosold said the Indians appreciate Zach Millard's outgoing personality and that Zach Millard commonly sees teammates in the halls at school and gives them hugs.
“The guys treat him like part of the team,” Michelle Millard said. “Nobody treats him like a baby or anything. … They just take him and (say), 'See ya!'”
Outside of golf, Zach Millard plays hockey with the Chicago Blackhawks Special Hockey team and competes in the 100-meter dash and long jump for Lake Central's unified track team. He devotes the most time, however, to golf.
In the summer, Zach Millard typically plays at least four days per week — Special Olympics tournaments on the weekend and Tuesday-Thursday practices with the Lake County Special Olympics team, coached by Michelle Millard.
It's a great time of year for Zach Millard, as his grandparents, Jerry and Judy Millard are back in Northwest Indiana after spending their winter in Sebring, Florida. While Jerry Millard said he loves watching his grandson play — he joked he get so nervous that he has to close his eyes, though — not much makes him happier than playing with Zach Millard.
Zach and Jerry Millard often played together for fun when Zach Millard was younger, and now the two play unified golf together, alternating shots and often taking home major honors. Michelle Millard said Zach and Jerry took home second place at the Indiana Special Olympics tournament last September.
“He's a strong kid and hits a drive as far as I do,” Jerry Millard said. “It's not that we're that great, but we play for fun, too. We're not really big competitors, but we have a blast doing it.”
That good-natured attitude carries over to his time with the Lake Central golf team. Ohlenkamp said a round with Zach Millard could feature him trying to converse with wild turkeys or rolling around on the green in laughter. Jerry Millard said Zach Millard is “the funniest kid you've ever seen.
Zach Millard has a big goal, though. Although he always has fun on the course, he wants to aim higher than the silver medal he and Jerry Millard earned last year.
He wants Special Olympics gold. It's all he talks about, Michelle Millard said.
“The sky's the limit,” Michelle Millard said. “We never put any restrictions (on him).”