Red Ribbon Week – ECSO entertains, delivers message

At far right, Deputy Jeff Weaver fires a toilet tissue gun into the mass of Escambia Academy students.

Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith and Chief Deputy Mike Lambert came to the realization a few years ago that the agency’s anti-drug message wasn’t getting through to as many youngsters as they had hoped. So they came up with a new approach.

The two law enforcement administrators realized that their charts, graphs, anecdotes and the dry rhetoric of the “Just Say No” campaign just weren’t holding the attention of the group they wanted most to reach. Therefore, they decided to throw enough fun into the mix that members of that group wouldn’t fully realize that a serious message was also being delivered.

“We started off doing our own thing,” Lambert said from Escambia County Middle School, one of 11 local schools at which the ECSO presentation was the highlight of Red Ribbon Week. “It was good, but after the kids had seen the same show two or three times, it started to get a little old.”

He said the new combination has worked, although the makeup of its audience has made it harder each year to find just the right mixture of fun and seriousness.

“We’ve been doing this for about 12 years,” said the chief deputy as Texas-based Epic Entertainment presented a show that was seen and enjoyed by more than 3,000 local students who laughed, cheered and inadvertently learned about the harmful effects of drugs, including alcohol, during the weeklong awareness campaign.

“It’s difficult because when you’re dealing with age groups from pre-K to 7th and 8th grades, it’s hard to provide entertainment that holds all their attention for the same length of time and that they all get the message and get something out of it,” he explained.

The same presentation was made at three other Atmore schools – Escambia Academy, Rachel Patterson Elementary and Atmore Christian School – and at Huxford Elementary, Brewton Elementary, W.S. Neal Elementary, Flomaton Elementary, Brewton Middle, W.S. Neal Middle and Pollard/McCall.
Lambert pointed out that the key has been in presenting a wide array of special Red Ribbon Week features.

“We’ve tried every year to find something new,” he said. “We’ve had a bicycle jumping team, and last year we had a trick basketball shooter who had been with the Harlem Globetrotters. We try to find something that keeps the kids entertained and energized, obviously, and still gets the message across when it gets serious.”

Administrative Assistant Terri Tolbert and School Resource Officers Jeff Weaver, Matt Jernigan and Sidney Thomas helped set up the show at each venue and/or played a cameo role in the activities, including the firing of toilet-paper guns into the crowds of screaming students. Capt. Greg Forbes served as the show’s “advance man.”

The event included students competing against each other in “bumper-ball” battles, teachers going up against each other in a disk-catching contest and the tossing of shaving cream “pies” into the faces of school officials, teachers and others. It was Principal Debbie Bolden, Coach Layton Knight and Weaver who each got a face-full of the foaming goo at ECMS.

Michelle McKinley, administrative assistant at Escambia Academy, said the sheriff’s show, which was presented at EA on October 26, was well received by the independent school’s students, faculty and staff.

She added that EA held a different themed observance each day of Red Ribbon Week, including those that involved caps (“Put a Cap on Drugs”), socks (“Sock it to Drugs”) and shoes (“Stomp Out Drugs”).

“We tried to do a little something different each day during the week,” she said.

Tolbert said she and the other ECSO personnel volunteered to help in order to trim the cost of the anti-substance abuse production, which is usually $7,500.

“Even after they cut the price, this was still a $5,000 show,” Lambert said. “(District) Judge Jeff White (who chairs the county’s Children’s Policy Council) and Karean Reynolds (its director) pitched in $2,500 from the CPC. The sheriff gave us the other $2,500 from his discretionary fund. I want to thank them for doing that.”

ECMS teacher Paula Ferguson reaches for more disks during one of the friendly competitions held during the October 24 assembly.