By John Enrietto
Eagle Sports Editor
The Karns City High School football team made history Monday night (August 18) — and it had nothing to do with touchdowns or championships.
The Gremlins became the first complete athletic team from Butler County to attend the Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program offered by non-profit organization CANDLE, Inc., at the Butler YWCA.
Thirty Karns City players took a bus to the reality tour, meeting up with their parents following practice Aug. 11. The other 30 on the roster took the tour Monday night.
The three-hour program included watching a staged arrest, emergency room and funeral scene, visiting the Butler County Prison, hearing talks from two George Junior Republic students in recovery from addiction and a man whose daughter died from drug abuse at age 25.
“We’ve had kids busted at our school,” KC football coach and principal Ed Conto said. “This is a real issue. It’s out there. Be scared of it.
“Don’t dismiss the signs … It’s heartbreaking.”
Conto said that during the past 10 years, a handful of former Karns City students and/or football players have died from alcohol or drug abuse within five years after their graduation.
“I’ve been coaching football for 30 years and haven’t lost a player yet to a natural death or a military death,” Conto said. “So, what’s killing our youth? Drugs.
“We use football as an educational tool. We’re working with the kids and parents to educate them about this stuff. We need to beat this.”
Norma Norris developed the Reality Tour Drug Prevention Program at the YWCA and the program is in its 11th year. She estimates the program has reached more than 10,000 Butler County residents.
“It’s fantastic that an entire high school football team is here. Hopefully, others will follow suit,” Norris said.
Retired Grove City football coach Jeff Bell had his team attend a private Reality Tour presentation, arranged through the Grove City Rotary, last year.
“The purpose of this program is to demonstrate just how real this experience can be,” Norris said of drug addiction. “The point driven home to the kids by the addict is that he was just like them. And at one point, he was.”
Among statistics presented during the program were that 48 percent of all seniors will have tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate, 25 percent of teens have been offered drugs in school, 6.2 percent of high school seniors have tried meth and 16 percent of all parents have been drunk or abused drugs in front of their children.
A video about new drugs being abused by youths was shown. Gasoline and cleaning fluids were among elements used in the mixing of the drugs.
“Some of the household items used in the making of these drugs … I would have never guessed,” KC football parent Loretta Sacco said. “It’s scary.”
Sacco added that the drug prevention program “needs to be experienced by kids 12 or 13, even more than high school kids.”
One player said he “will never try drugs, knowing now what they’re made of,” after attending the program. Another admitted that he knows teammates who have at least dabbled in drugs.
“We tell them they (drugs) are no good for them and we try to straighten them out,” he said. “As a team, we have some influence on each other. We have each other’s backs.”
Another player said he “just has to stay strong as a person and avoid those bad situations.”
Each player traced his hand-print on a canvas during the reality tour, vowing not to try drugs.
Kim Buck, another KC football mother, was happy to see the Gremlins attend the reality program as a team.
“Definitely worthwhile,” she said. “Credit goes to Ed for bringing the whole group. The kids will talk to each other about this now. Hopefully, they’ll make a pact together that they’re not going to do (drugs).
“Those statistics they showed, some of them were shocking to me. There’s a lot of naivete out there about drugs. I know this night woke me up.”