Thursday, October 17, 2002

Substance-free program targets student athletes

Published in the Current

Over 30 high school freshmen athletes will see the benefit of funding from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation and other local organizations this year, in the form of a new program designed to make it “cool” to not use alcohol and drugs in Cape Elizabeth.

That’s in contrast to the present situation, according to organizer Andy Strout.

Strout, a physical education teacher at the middle school and a coach of the boys varsity soccer and tennis teams, said the social climate at the high school has a simple summary: “It’s cool to drink.” He said there are students who would prefer not to drink, but have no non-alcoholic alternatives in town. “Right now, you don’t have a choice,” he said.

Cape Athletics for a Positive Environment and Lifestyle, “Cape Life” for short, is his plan. He wants to make it acceptable for kids not to drink, by providing a range of activities and learning sessions for students who pledge to remain substance-free for the year.

The sessions will be led by a professional facilitator, Michael Brennan, who leads similar groups at Deering High School and actively involves the students in learning and experiencing important lessons on topics important for student athletes, Strout said.

Brennan will host workshops on leadership, role modeling, positive self-talk, visualization and nutrition for athletes. Strout said they will be active and fun activities, “not like class.” Brennan’s stipend will be paid by the Education Foundation’s $1,500 grant, enabling the program to begin without needing to raise significant initial funding, Strout said.

A parallel set of fun activities will be scheduled throughout the year, he said, including outings to local athletic events, pizza parties at the Community Center and other activities designed to bring students together to have fun in a safe, substance-free way.

There has been a good reception from new freshmen, Strout said. “There are some that can’t wait.” He also has a number of juniors and seniors, who will be participating as leaders in the group.

This is the latest in a series of efforts in Cape to provide alternative recreation for teens. Two years ago, Strout and other coaches had what was called the Captain’s Club, in which they met with all the captains of the athletic teams and encouraged them to use their leadership role to discourage drinking.

It wasn’t very successful, for one reason: “We were targeting the wrong people,” he said.

The captains had already made their social choices, and as seniors already had a pattern of behavior that was hard to change. Cape Life targets freshmen, before they set up their patterns of social behavior in high school.

The Cape Community Coalition also focuses on the issues of teen drinking and drug abuse, and will be involved in the Cape Life effort as well, Strout said.

Cape Life will extend to coaches as well as players, he said, to try to create a more positive atmosphere for student-athletes who make good choices.

After failed efforts to get a special segment of the town Community Center set aside for teens, in which Strout played a strong role, he has decided they can make do with what the center already has: a pool table, a foosball table and ping-pong. He said those activities on their own are a big draw for teens, and plans to use them as added attractions for Cape Life activities.

Money from the Soccer Boosters has already come in to assist with pizza and other activities, and Strout is hoping for additional funds from other booster groups throughout the year.

He will spend more effort looking for funds in January, when he begins a sabbatical.

He will be researching leadership issues in student athletics, including coaching, captaincy and peer interactions.

He expects to have time to meet with a number of groups around the area to solicit additional support, as well as spend time incorporating some of what he learns into the Cape Life program.

And though the ultimate success of the program depends on the level of involvement from students, Strout is optimistic. “I’m really excited,” he said.