The American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) honored Rafe Cochran, 16, of Palm Beach, Florida, and Sydney Yermish, 16, of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, with the Jerry Cole Sportsmanship Award at the Rolex Junior All-America Virtual Awards Banquet at PGA National Resort & Spa. The honor is bestowed each year to the male and female junior golfers who best display exemplary sportsmanship and integrity in the game of golf.
Making a difference in the lives of others has always been important to Cochran. At just nine years old, he began taking pledges for birdies he made in local tournaments, raising a total of $18K for local families in need. After two years of taking pledges, Cochran set his sights on making a global impact.
In 2016 he created the Rafe Cochran Golf Classic, a charity tournament benefitting Food for the Poor. The nonprofit provides food, medicine, and shelter to the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean. In just six years, the Rafe Cochran Golf Classic has raised over $500K. In total, his tournament proceeds funded the construction of ten double unit homes in Haiti and four schools in Jamaica.
His commitment to service then took him to these countries between 2017 and 2019, where he helped build those homes and schools. In addition to assisting with the construction process, Cochran met with local students to discuss his efforts and to motivate them to become more creative and active within their own communities. After the construction of the schools was finished, Cochran would deliver the inaugural address at the opening ceremony.
Cochran wasn’t able to visit these countries in 2020 or 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he plans to make a return trip in 2022 to continue his mission of helping those who are less fortunate.
As a child Yermish was fascinated by the fire engine that passed by her house. Watching the vehicle race toward danger left a lasting impression on her, one that was reignited in 2020 when her personal trainer started going through fire school.
Hearing her stories inspired Sydney to walk into the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Hills Fire Company in June of that year. By September she was the first cadet in the newly created junior program. Having this role is something Yermish didn’t take lightly. The honor of working in the brigade pushed Yermish to become a regular at drills and to seek out additional ways to help the station. Since joining the brigade, Yermish has completed a junior firefighter course and is 2/3 of the way through a Firefighter I program module. She's also inspired other teenagers to get involved at the station.
I didn't start out trying to inspire younger people to join the fire department. It was more me wanting to give back in some way, but it's been really cool to see fellow teenagers get involved. I'm super happy that other kids want to give back to their community through the fire department.
Yermish started her sophomore year in the fall of 2020 with a packed academic, golf and fire training schedule. Despite so many responsibilities, Yermish managed to excel in the classroom and on the course. This inspiration came from her high school golf coach, who pushed Yermish to try her best each and every day. Tragically, her golf coach lost his battle with cancer just a few months into her sophomore year. Since then, Yermish has kept him in mind at every tournament she’s played in.
Yermish thought of her coach once again as she teed it up in the first round of the 2021 North & South Junior Championship at Pinehurst Resort over the Fourth of July weekend. She played a steady round that featured three birdies, ultimately walking off the last hole with a round of 1-under-par 71. Little did she know at the time, but her world was about to be rocked by more heartbreak.
Just moments after signing her scorecard, Yermish was told that her closest friend and mentor at the fire department died in the line of duty. Devastated by the loss, Sydney considered withdrawing from the tournament; however, she knew that her mentor would want her to finish the tournament out.
That’s exactly what Yermish did, posting rounds of 2-under-par 70 and even-par 72 for a tournament total of 3-under-par 213 and a T4 finish. Now that the tournament was over and the grieving process could begin, Yermish set out to honor her friend in another way.
Using Leadership Links, Sydney has raised more than $18K for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to honor and remember America’s fallen fire heroes, to provide resources to assist their families in rebuilding their lives, and to work within the fire service community to reduce firefighter deaths and injuries.
It's been incredible to raise so much money for this amazing organization and to see people rally for the cause. My goal for the future is to raise more money through a "Birdies for the Fallen Campaign" next year during my high school season.