This is the first of a series of stories about the ongoing battle against teen drinking.
LONGMONT — The story of a life cut short.
A wrecked car.
A lecture on the evils of drinking and driving.
This year, students at Longmont and Ute Creek high schools did not have to endure these pre-prom rituals, which have become as traditional as renting tuxedos and purchasing new gowns.
Instead, they played games to teach them about trust and friendship during assemblies led by Jep Enck, a professional speaker.
In the first game, pairs of students stood face to face and used just the palms of their hands to try to knock each other off their feet.
In the last game, students held on to each other for balance and moved their bodies into creative positions, trusting that their partners would help support them.
Enck used the games to illustrate that friendship is built on trust, not competition.
“The game of life is a game of chances,” Enck said during Longmont High School’s assembly on April 22. “That’s the risk you have to take with friendship.”
He pointed out to the students that they laughed the loudest during the last game.
“When you are with good friends, you can be comfortable with yourself,” Enck said.
After the assembly, students received alcohol-awareness cards outlining the symptoms of alcohol poisoning and when to call 911 for emergency assistance. Then they visited a health fair with booths offering information on suicide prevention, eating disorders, drunken driving, domestic abuse and smoking prevention, among other health issues.
Christy Friesner, a junior at Longmont High School, said she thought her fellow students would remember what Enck said.
“That stuff he said about friends was cool,” Friesner said, adding that she liked the games as well.
“He was pretty enthusiastic,” junior Ryan Becker said of Enck.
“It was easy for (Enck) to relate to the students,” said Kevin Thomas, a senior at Longmont High.
Thomas and Erik Casynn, a junior at Ute Creek, were the lead organizers of the assemblies. Both serve on the Longmont Youth Council, which took on alcohol awareness as its chief issue this year.
They wanted to offer something different than what they’ve seen in the past, because they don’t think “shock” programs are effective.
The shock has a momentary effect, Casynn said, “but it doesn’t sink in later.”
Last year’s pre-prom, anti-drinking campaign at Longmont High School was “offensive,” Thomas said, as it used students’ pictures on poster depicting drivers being ticketed, drivers in crashes and even cemetery scenes.
Beyond seeing a wrecked car during an assembly, Thomas once drove by a crash that killed some of his friends.
Even then, he didn’t get it, he said.
“It’s just something you see and you move on,” Thomas said.
“You just don’t want to think it’ll ever happen to you,” Casynn said.
They put the new program together from scratch, calling “anybody and everybody” in Colorado to find out what works and what doesn’t, Thomas said. The research took six weeks.
“We wanted to do something that’s never been done before,” Thomas said. “We just started putting things together.”
Convincing adults on the Longmont Alcohol Awareness Coalition and in their schools that their idea had merit was one of the biggest challenges, Thomas and Casynn said.
“Social norms” research — which shows that college students drink less when they learn that most of their fellow students drink less than they thought — supported the teenagers’ plan.
Last year, the Longmont Police Department received a federal Department of Justice grant, administered by the Colorado Department of Transportation, to fight underage drinking.
The department spearheaded the formation of the Longmont Alcohol Awareness Coalition, which consists of police officers, community members, liquor retailers and Thomas and Casynn, representing the Longmont Youth Council.
With grant funds, the Longmont Police Department sponsored the high schools’ assemblies. Because of the Youth Council’s involvement, though, the assemblies were quite different than the adults would have planned, said Kay Armstrong of the police department’s community services division.
Thomas and Casynn were hoping for 50 percent participation at the assemblies.
“We definitely got more than that,” Casynn said.
“(The assemblies were) everything we could have hoped for,” Thomas said. “I think we can be extremely proud of what we did.”
Both realize, though, that they cannot reach all of their fellow students.
“You can’t fix the kids who are going to drink every single weekend,” Thomas said.
Even after the assemblies concluded, they were not sure how to measure their effectiveness. Casynn wondered what impact they had and how to measure it.
But Thomas had a different perspective: If they touched even one person, they accomplished their goal.
Victoria Camron can be reached at
303-684-5226, or by e-mail at email@example.com.