Drug and alcohol dangers illustrated to Chippewa Valley students  
  By Nicole Tuttle, Voice Reporter  
  Nov 16, 2010  
In the 1980s, anti-drug commercials used the example of an egg and a frying pan to illustrate the effect of drugs on the brain. On Nov. 16, American Athletic Institute President and Founder John Underwood needed no such symbolism. Instead he showed Chippewa Valley school district students in middle school images of actual brain damage  
  resulting from drug and alcohol use.  
  "The largest amount of brain growth in your entire life expectancy is happening right now inside your head," Underwood told students.  
  He said that the majority of brain growth and development occurs from the age of 12 or 13 to the age of 21.  
  "If you mess it up it doesn't fix itself later, it doesn't develop later. It just doesn't happen," Underwood said. "You have to be so careful between the ages of 12 and 21 with what's going on in your brain and your body ..."  
  Underwood invited Chippewa Valley school district athletes to convene at Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township on Nov. 16 to hear him discuss the effects of alcohol and drugs on student athletes.  
  Underwood gave one presentation for Dakota High School and Chippewa Valley High School students in the morning and another for students of the district's four middle schools in the afternoon.  
  Underwood used a straightforward approach to showing the 100 middle school student athletes what alcohol and drug use can do to their bodies, brains and future careers.  
  Underwood said that reaching middle school students is particularly important, as they are on the threshold of making choices that can impact their lives. He told the middle school students that the average age at which boys will take their first drink in the United States is at 11.9 years and girls at 13.1 years. He said that by the age of 15.9, many students start drinking once per week.  
  "If you look at the younger kids, it is a different program," Underwood said. "With the younger kids it is basically trying to educate them ... With older kids it is trying to challenge them. The challenges exist in their lives already. There are so many of them already involved with partying and pot and alcohol and they have already tried it. They have already decided if they want to use it."  
  Student athletes are seen as leaders, so speaking to them about the effects of drugs and alcohol early can also potentially impact other students, according to Underwood.  
  "With the high school kids, you're pretty much challenging them to stay out of it because a lot of them are doing it ... it's no different here than anywhere else," Underwood said. "Student athletes are deeply involved in, rooted in, the party culture. If you think not you haven't seen the change over the last 20 years. It is nothing like it was when we were in high school sports. Now it's not the minority of kids who party, it's the majority. Even kids that don't party are there at the parties where kids are drinking and smoking pot and doing all kinds of other things they shouldn't be doing."  
  Underwood also told middle school students about how marijuana use can affect brain activity, illustrating his point with images of healthy brains and those of marijuana users.  
  "It shuts down brain activity, not just when you're using it but for days and days afterwards ... you're taking a drug that shuts down your brain activity levels, so it doesn't work for anything. It doesn't work for thinking, it doesn't work for sports, it doesn't work for anything you do," Underwood said.  
  Underwood also presented students with his credentials as an athletic trainer and researcher. He is a former NCAA All-American, an international-level distance runner and a World Masters Champion. He has coached or advised more than two dozen Olympians, including several gold medalists. He holds three International Olympic Solidarity diplomas for coaching. He is also a consultant to the Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation and the Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center.  
  "I grew up in a sports family," Underwood told middle school students on Nov. 16. "We had four boys in our family. I had three brothers. We were all state champions in different sports. That's pretty amazing. At this stage my dad was an athletic director and he was a coach, so sports were really important in our family. I grew up in New York State, and we all grew up wanting to be athletes. It was really important in our lives. We knew from a very young age that that was something that we wanted to be around, that we wanted to do."  
  Underwood told students about his career training Olympic champions in Lake Placid, New York.  
  "I decided to work with athletes' right at the top, Olympic athletes," Underwood said. "That is what I've been doing for my whole life."  
  He described the long hours of training Olympic athletes go through, as well as the history of the Olympics at Lake Placid.  
  "It's a cool town, it is a real sports town," Underwood said to students. "But we also have the Olympic Training Center there for the Eastern United States ... We have a laboratory there that I run full-time. I've been doing it for 25 years. We have an educational center. Just as we are here today to try to educate you guys about some really important things, we have to educate top athletes. Some of the same things I'll talk to you guys about today I talked to those athletes that you watch on TV about because some of them don't know all those details. They don't have the information to make the right decisions."  
  Underwood said that after his coaching days, he became a scientist.  
  "I became a scientist to study sports ... I became what's called a physiologist," Underwood said.  
  Underwood said that he does tests on athletes to determine where they need the most training.  
  "We have a laboratory and in the laboratory I test the athletes and what the tests are that they take are they do really easy exercises and they go and go and go harder and harder and harder, faster and faster and faster, until they totally drop, until they are totally exhausted. And they just collapse," Underwood said. "We measure everything we could possibly measure. It's pretty cool; it is really neat, because as soon as those tests are over you can tell the athletes, 'Ok, now you need to go do this,' so you basically direct their training. In over four years you might test these guys 30, 40, 50 times. All their feedback for what they do as an athlete is coming from those tests."  
  In addition to his anti-drug and alcohol messages, Underwood also stressed the importance of goal setting and tenacity to students.  
  Underwood told middle school students that motivation to work hard and achieve goals is at the core of many of the successful athletes he has worked with.  
  "These people are the most positive people that you ever want to meet in your life," Underwood said. "They don't have time to be negative. So it's so awesome to be around them because they're always upbeat. They're always full of energy and those people are so motivated, focused and dedicated to what they are doing. You know when you think about this they started out just like you."  
  The idea that something will "just happen" Underwood dismissed as "a fantasy." He told students that staying focused on their goals and priorities is as important as making them.  
  "If you want something great, you have to make it happen," Underwood said. "You will make it happen. You can find people to help you because you need to, but you have to be the one who cares about it and makes it happen."  
  Underwood urged students to write down and discuss goals that they set.  
  Underwood's visit to the district was paid for with federal grant funds and sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families, as well as the district's athletic departments, according to Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youth and Families Executive Director Charlene McGunn.  
  Nicole Tuttle is a freelance reporter. She can be contacted at ntuttle.reporter@sbcglobal.net.  
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