SIOUX CITY | Samantha Delperdang, of Sergeant Bluff, learns how to whack golf drives and use more control in putting. In the process, she gets tips on how to decline when offered drugs, plus pointers on sportsmanship.

"If people do bad, don't be mean or laugh in their face," Delperdang, 13, said during a First Tee session at Floyd Golf Course in early July.

The First Tee program, which teaches golf and life lessons to Woodbury County kids, could take a hit if a $50,000 fundraising goal falls short, program Director Steve McGrory said.

He's counting on a fundraiser Friday at Green Valley Golf Course to keep the program going beyond this year. The Woodbury County Board cut the program's annual appropriation by two-thirds, from $75,650 to $25,217, this year and didn't budget for it at all for 2014.

First Tee was created in 2008 as a diversionary program to keep at-risk children out of the Woodbury County Juvenile Detention Center but is now open to all kids ages 7-17. After starting with a handful of participants, it grew to serve 270 in 2012. McGrory told the County Board in February that no child who has gone through First Tee has ever been housed in the county detention center.

In paring the funding at budget time last winter, board members said they liked the program but that it was time for it to find other means of support.

McGrory said 60 percent of the children served in 2012 came from homes with income of less than $49,000 and that 12 percent who come from low-income homes qualify for scholarships.

"We absorb all the costs involved -- books, shirts, golf clubs, everything," he said.

McGrory said his appeals to the county, Sioux City school district and city of Sioux City haven't panned out, and now he's looking for donations.

Schools superintendent Paul Gausman said the district can’t fit First Tee into its budget.

“We support the mission of First Tee, which builds character and values through the game of golf. Unfortunately, when we were approached about helping fund the program, it was not a possibility among the other priorities we had in raising student achievement,” he said.

Kristin Bell, of Sioux City, whose three children have participated in First Tee, said she hopes McGrory will get the money he needs. She said her son, Keegan Lyon, wasn’t very verbal until joining First Tee. Now, she said, he's more talkative and more of "a people person."

“The biggest thing is the goal setting that my kids have learned and self-management skills that they’ve learned through this,” Bell said. “Those are skills that apply to home and school.”

McGrory said golf is the perfect sport to teach values and life skills.

"It has a certain value system and a certain etiquette system and a certain integrity system," he said. "We're not out here trying to bash each other's heads in or trying to take a hard foul. They're learning how to take their hats off, shake hands, sportsmanship, integrity, how to keep their own score without a referee blowing a whistle in your ear."

McGrory added that the participants draw possible life scenarios out of a hat as they tote clubs on the golf course. By the time they reach the next hole, they're expected to say how they would handle it.

"We talk about, 'When you leave this clubhouse today, tell me how you are going to use this at home, at school, with your friends and at play,'" he said.

"This is the hook that keeps them involved, that keeps them engaged in this," McGrory added. "If I'm sitting blabbing at a whiteboard about all this stuff, I'd lose them in about three minutes."

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County and education reporter

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