This story appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in November 2005.

NAU athletes share drug-free message with youth

By Ed Odeven

On the playing field, athletes want to excel and help their teams win games, tournaments and championships. Off the field, they also know they have a responsibility to be role models.

Events like Flagstaff’s 16th annual Red Ribbon Week serve as clear-cut reminder of this.

All week, NAU student-athletes and coaches visited local elementary schools and middle schools to spread the drug-free message.

This year’s theme: “The future depends on you and me to be drug-free.”

“Red Ribbon Week is an opportunity for our student-athletes to be a visible part of the Flagstaff community,” said Jim Fallis, NAU’s athletics director. “It is an event we look forward to as an athletic department each year.”

At Cromer Elementary School Wednesday afternoon, a group of 40, comprised of Lumberjack athletes and NAU assistant volleyball coaches Megan Greene and Jennifer McCurdy, split up into small groups and visited each classroom to remind the young students about the dangers of drugs.

In one group, NAU soccer players Andrea Berra and Liz Winkelbech and track and field athletes Jacob Foyston and Joe Thomas visited several classrooms to speak to students.

These were informal gatherings. Athletes introduced themselves to each group of students and teachers, told them what sport they play and why they were visiting their school.

At Rebecca Cardon’s third-grade class, Berra, a goalkeeper, gave a strong message to all students who are offered drugs:

“All you have to say is no and walk away.”

Moments later, the quartet visited Susan Williams’ second-grade class.

“Today, we are here to tell you to be drug- and alcohol-free,” Thomas said.

Students asked several questions about the dangers of drugs.

This Lumberjack foursome, one at a time, explained why they cannot be successful athletes and take drugs.

In Williams’ classroom, Thomas addressed the topic by first asking a question.

“Anybody like doing sports in here?” Thomas asked.

Nearly every hand was raised.

“We’ll get kicked off the team if we do drugs,” Berra chimed in.

Down the Cromer Elementary School hall in Diane Immethun’s third-grade class, Foyston told students that “drugs is a losing equation.”

Perhaps one question-and-answer segment best summed up the day’s activities.

“You are going to get offered to do drugs your whole life. What do you say?” Berra asked one group of students.

“Noooooooo!” the students said.

Cromer Elementary School Principal Chris Fonoti said college athletes are ideal speakers for events like this.

“It helps. Kids look up to athletes,” said Fonoti, whose school has some 600 students. “Everybody wants to be a star, the girls, the boys. … The kids relate to them.”

And even though each group spoke for only 5-10 minutes in each of Cromer’s 30-plus classrooms, Thomas said the Lumberjacks’ visit was a productive one.

“It was good. … It will have an impact on them,” said Thomas, echoing what his fellow junior-college track transfer Cardell Glover stated moments later.

Red Ribbon Week was first established in October 1988 to honor Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, a federal drug enforcement officer, who was killed by drug traffickers in Mexico in 1985. To symbolize their goal of a drug-free country, parents across the nation began wearing red ribbons, and Red Ribbon Week was officially recognized by Congress in 1988.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, NAU athletics, the Flagstaff Unified School District and Citizens Against Substance Abuse are presenting the Red Ribbon Week activities.