BELLEVILLE — Delayed but not deterred by a Monday morning lightning storm, students from all over St. Clair County gathered in the gym at Southwestern Illinois College to pledge to remain free from drugs.
The festivities were part of the 25th annual Red Ribbon Week kick-off for metro-east school kids. Dancers, musicians and cheerleaders from Belleville East and Belleville West performed for elementary school kids from across St. Clair County. Many of the groups' members gave a personal address after their performance about why they are opposed to drug use. Elementary School kids from many of the school performed original chants with an anti-drug message.
The event started with a half full gym as students from several schools were delayed by thunderstorms in the Belleville area. But the crowd grew larger and louder as it went on while students continued to arrive.
Caitlin Malherek, a senior at Belleville West who plays soccer, said she has too many goals in life to get side tracked by drugs.
"As an athlete, we have to stay in good shape in order to be able to play," Malherek said. "I don't want to ruin my life and the opportunities I have with drugs. We have to set a good example for people younger than us."
Belleville Township High School District 201 Wellness Co-ordinator Dale Zink said applauded the enthusiasm of participants.
"It's important you remember the message you hear today throughout your life," Zink said. "Don't make the mistake of getting involved in the bad things in life. Get involved with the good activities like sports, music, theater and dance. Remember the chants and messages you heard here today."
SWIC basketball coach Jay Harrington told elementary and junior high students if they had dreams of playing sports in high school and at the college level they had better steer clear of drugs.
"My players are free of drugs and I know it because they get tested," Harrington said. "If you use drugs, you're not going to get to play."
Gordon Bush Elementary School of East St. Louis placed first in the chant contest. High Mount School from Swansea was second; James Avant Elementary School in Washington Park was third; Central Elementary School of O'Fallon was fourth and Dunbar Elementary School in East. St. Louis placed fifth.
Red Ribbon week was founded in the 1980s after citizens of Mexico City, Mexico, hung red ribbons as a sign of intolerance of drugs after traffickers killed a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency investigator in their city in 1985. After that the red ribbon was adopted by schools and other organizations across America as a symbol of unity and defiance against the use and dealing of illegal drugs.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.