BATTLE GROUND — Jason Johnson II tossed a ball around with another teenager Sunday afternoon at Bailey’s Tiger Bowl. Then he put on a pair of DUI goggles and tried again.
The 14-year-old Battle Ground High School student threw the ball far outside of the other boy’s reach.
“It wasn’t going to him, even though I was absolutely sure it was going to,” Jason said. Had he been behind the wheel of a car with those goggles on, “I could see how that could be very dangerous.”
The activity was designed to show the teens how drinking alcohol impairs motor skills, and why drinking would be a dangerous thing to do before driving. It was one of several activities local middle and high schools students could try at Spooktacular Fun, a Halloween event aimed at reducing underage drinking and drug use.
It was organized by the Prevent Together Battle Ground Prevention Alliance, and in particular the coalition’s Dream Team, a handful of ninth graders from Battle Ground High School, including Jason.
The Prevent Together Battle Ground Prevention Coalition:
The Center for Defensive Driving:
A couple of dozen kids attended. After about an hour of participating in prevention activities, the students, many wearing Halloween costumes, were treated to pizza and bowling. Goofy sunglasses also were available at a “Throw Shade at Drugs” table.
Battle Ground Police Chief Bob Richardson sat back and watched the festivities. Richardson, a member of the Battle Ground prevention coalition, said it’s nice to see teens having fun in a drug-free environment.
“Kids can have a good time without drugs and alcohol,” Richardson said.
It’s not a message every young person receives. According to the 2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, 21 percent of sophomores surveyed reported drinking alcohol in the last month. That’s an 11 percent decrease from 2008, but the results remain concerning to public health officials.
Daybreak Middle School student Stavros Moreno, 13, said he knew that underage drinking was a problem.
“It’s kind of sad how the kids get lost like that,” he said.
Laurin Middle School students Lilly Bash, 12, and Colleen McNicholas, 12, said they learned that the reasons teens drink can include stress at school and wanting to look cool.
Lilly said the event didn’t change her mind about underage drinking — it was already something she didn’t want to do.
Colleen added that drinking can make people vulnerable to making other bad choices. “I think it’s not a smart decision.”
Vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of young people, and about 30 percent of vehicle crashes are alcohol or drug related, said Chris Knox, a retired police officer and president of the Center for Defensive Driving. The organization provides free presentations about teen driver safety at Oregon and Washington high schools, and ran the DUI goggles demonstration on Sunday.
Another prevention activity at Spooktacular Fun included guided talks with Dream Team members. Students were asked several questions, including: “Where do underage youth get alcohol?” and “How can you be a positive influence on teens who use?”
Dream Team members Emma Boucher, 15, and Madalyn Arrowsmith, 14, suggested talking to a friend who drinks from a place of caring, not judgement, and informing an adult if there is a problem.
“Don’t target them, just talk to them,” Madalyn said.
The Dream Team put in about 200 hours this year organizing prevention activities, said Kathy Deschner, coalition coordinator for the Battle Ground prevention alliance. The students helped organize a National Night Out event at Kiwanis Park and set up a community booth during Harvest Days next to the city’s skate park.
Battle Ground High School Principal Mike Hamilton said it’s nice to see “young leaders who are concerned about prevention and underage drinking.”
Deschner said the coalition also plans to talk to grocery stores about better securing alcohol and to have more community events aimed at parents and other adults.
“Parents are not talking to their kids” about drugs and alcohol, Deschner said. “Talk early and talk often. … One caring adult can make a difference.”