Eighth-graders planning to participate in sports as freshmen this fall at WHRHS — along with their parents — took part in the annual Athletics First Night program Wednesday, June 13.
It was the second year in which the program was held in the spring instead of the week before school begins in late August when families are trying to “squeeze in an extra week of vacation,” according to Athletic Director Bob Rodgers.
Project Impact concussion baseline exams were administered; school and MIAA rules for eligibility, game-day attendance, chemical health and other issues were reviewed; Athletic Trainer Lexi Watkins went over rules governing post-concussion returns to competition and three team captains spoke before two guest speakers talked about opioid addiction and positive sports psychology.
“It’s important for you to know them,” Rodgers said of the rules. “It solves a lot of problems before they happen.”
Quinn Sweeney, a football team co-captain spoke about the importance of the fitness center in conditioning. Fellow football team co-captain Jacob Nixon advised incoming freshmen to keep in mind what high school sports are all about.
“High school sports are not your job,” he said. “You do not get paid to do this, so make it fun, make it count.”
But he said sports do serve an important social function.
“They bring people together of a variety of races, religions and all different backgrounds,” Nixon said. “In this world today that’s very special because you don’t see a lot of that across the country. … We’re creating peace and we don’t even realize it.”
He also said high school sports bring the two communities together.
Chloe Wilson, a cross-country captain, said a team is a place to feel welcomed with open arms.
“I understood — from the hallways, to the classrooms to the track — it was no longer just me, a little powerless freshman, it was me and my team,” she said. “Open arms — my team took me under their wing [and] I took them into my heart. … Our job is to welcome you with open arms.”
In reviewing the chemical health rules, Rodgers set up his first speaker by cautioning parents that none of the rules would serve to dissuade students from violating them, but stressed there are consequences that will be enforced.
“Parents, we need to work together to make sure we’re sending the same message: It’s not OK for them to drink in the basement as long as you take their keys,” he said. “The addictive part of their brain gets triggered when they start doing these things. The younger they do it, the greater the chance that they’re going to have a problem with addiction as they get older.”
He drove home the point that the reasoning and impulse-control center of the brain is not fully developed until age 25 — and that vaping is addictive and may soon be included as a drug offense at the school.
“I have been to too many funerals of W-H student-athletes who left here, had trouble, overdosed and died,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had a lot of them. … they were the best and the brightest.”
Speaker Kevin Rosario, regional outreach representative for Gosnold Treatment Center, headquartered in Falmouth, outlined the challenges he faced as a teen that, coupled with a family history of addiction led to his abusing alcohol and drugs.
“What I bring to the table is I’m a person in long-term recovery,” said Rosario, a New Bedford native who has been sober since July 2010. “I try to be a decent human today … but that wasn’t always the case.”
A student who was small for his age and socially insecure, he was bullied and when his heart was broken in sixth grade, he felt the need to “create a new character.”
He became a class clown and “player” who frequently got into fights. He also started smoking weed and drinking in grade seven.
“Self-esteem, insecurity and peer pressure, body image and all those different things play a huge factor in whether somebody will experiment with drugs or alcohol,” he said, noting he also had undiagnosed ADHD. “Before drugs or alcohol I already had an issue.”
Even nicotine can impede the reasoning and impulse-control center of the brain he said.
“If at a young age, you use a chemical to try to deal with feelings, the body naturally builds a tolerance to it … over time, you will find you need stronger chemicals to get the same effect,” Rosario said. Even one small Juul contains the same amount of nicotine as more than two packs of cigarettes.
Eating, exercise, making love — but wait until you’re at least out of high school, he quipped — and laughter release the same dopamine in the brain as the chemicals that addictive drugs release in larger quantities.
“Once you start abusing [drugs, alcohol or nicotine] you’re flooding your body with so much dopamine from an unnatural source, the rest of your life becomes desensitized,” he said. “All those things that used to make you feel good don’t do it anymore because now you’re so used to being over-stimulated.”
Rosario’s first arrest for under-age drinking was at 16, after moving on to marijuana and pain-killers such as percocet and within a year after that he started sniffing heroin — and shooting it six months after that. It was the beginning of nine years of addiction.
“It wasn’t fun anymore,” he said. “I needed it every day to not be sick.”
He has had episodes where he has walked out of the hospital after being saved by Narcan to get high again — and has been arrested “more than a dozen times,” but does not remember exactly how many.
“It was a long, nasty cycle,” he said.
About 63 percent of Americans know a person, or have a family member, struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol.
“You’ve got to know the risk that you’re at,” Rosario said, noting that alcoholism runs on both sides of his family.
Power of happiness
He concluded where speaker Pam Garramone picked up, that finding what makes you happy and confident because “happy, confident people don’t do what other people are doing.”
A positive psychology life coach, Garramone said being happy is a goal parents have for their children and each person would like attain in life — but most people say they know more unhappy people.
While 60 percent of how happy we are is due to genetics or external influences, she said “the good news is, 40 percent … are things you can do everyday to increase your happiness and well-being.”
Social connection, exercise, a healthy and happy committed relationship, all lead to happiness and research shows that happy people are more productive, make more money and have better jobs, are better leaders, are more likely to marry and stay married, have more friends, are healthier and live longer, they give more and are less stressed, anxious and depressed.
“Or brains are hard-wired for negative thoughts,” Garramone cautioned. She recommended journaling the three good things that have happened to you that day. “It proves the power of words.”
She had the audience pair off to discuss three good things that happened to them over the past 24 hours, with a few sharing examples with the audience.
One student-athlete was part of a community service project to clean an elderly man’s home so he could keep his cat. Another said he had played his first Junior Legion game.
Garramone also offered students a chance to thank people who have made a difference to them to demonstrate how gratitude makes both you and the person you thank feel better. Several thanked teachers.
“I want to thank [Hanson Middle School history teacher and Builders Club advisor Joshua] Lopes for not only being an amazing teacher, but for teaching his students to be better people,” one student said.
“I want to thank my mom, Amanda Pearl, for keeping my head up high,” her daughter in the crowd said.