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Red Ribbon Week kicks off with rally

10/23/12      Grayslake

Roycealee Wood Lake County Superintendent Schools talks with those gathered for Red RibbRally College

10/23/12 Grayslake Roycealee Wood, Lake County Superintendent of Schools, talks with those gathered for a Red Ribbon Rally at the College of Lake County Tuesday, Oct. 23. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:30AM

The 24th annual Red Ribbon rally Tuesday at the College of Lake County in Grayslake kicks off a week of activities at schools across the county with the message to say “yes” to healthy choices and “just Say No” to drugs.

Cheerleaders from Zion-Benton Township High School jumped and soared while their school’s NJROTC drill team marched, clapped, did synchronized arm movements and stomped through a routine that brought a lot of applause. The high school’s band rocked the gymnasium and the Fighting Zee-Bee, the team mascot, got students to give him high-fives as he ran past. The NJROTC color guard presented the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance to open the rally.

“It’s a rather gloomy day outside, but we are celebrating here inside about making healthy choices,” said Roycealee Wood, Lake County Superintendent of Schools.

“You’re part of an elite group and you are a wonderful message to the county,” she said.

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Waller and Chief Judge Fred Foreman attended the event to hand out grant money from drug forfeitures in the county. “Of all the things I get to do, I enjoy this the most,” said Waller after it was announced this was his last rally because he is retiring.

“This is a rally to make healthy choices,” he said, explaining how they approach drug use in three different ways — arresting the drug dealer, seeking treatment for the drug user and using anti-drug messages for prevention and education.

“If we are successful in prevention and education, we can put the drug dealers out of business,” he said. “If it was smart to take drugs, why do they call it dope,” said Waller.

The county has given out about $20,000 in grants to county schools this year and over $200,000 over the nearly two dozen years the program has been in place. He handed out checks to Gavin Central School and Gavin South School in Ingleside, Lotus School in Fox Lake, Miguel Juarez Middle School in Waukegan, Stanton School in Fox Lake and Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion.

The students also saw a movie, “Image and Mirages,” that included testimonials from kids and the problems they ran into when they experimented with drugs and alcohol, recounting fatal accidents and near death experiences from alcohol poisoning. The title refers to maintaining your image by being true to yourself and not putting on a mirage just to have certain people or groups like you because that’s when you start making bad choices.

Judge Veronica O’Malley told the students that Red Ribbon began when Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Enrique Camarena was killed in 1985 while he was working undercover during a drug investigation in Mexico. “He was ready to leave (his assignment) when he was kidnapped and tortured to death by drug cartel members,” she said.

“He had a deeply ingrained desire to make a difference,” said O’Malley. In his honor, they give out the Enrique Camarena Award to a student. This year’s award went to Austin Demski, a Gurnee resident and sophomore at Warren Township High School.

Nanci Radford, supervisor of teen court at Nicasa, a substance abuse non-profit organization, said she nominated the Nicasa volunteer because of his work on teen courts.

“He’s all about giving the kids an opportunity to choose the right path,” said Radford, explaining that he is unusual in that he volunteers for three different teen courts and hopes to become a police officer some day.

“He’s very professional, but very accepting of the defendant. He doesn’t pre-judge them, all he really wants to do is help them,” she said, ”He’s a great leader and a role model.”

To wrap up the rally, the sixth grade and a handful of seventh-graders from Miguel Juarez Middle School that make up the choir did their own rap song with the refrain “Drug free, That’s Me, Whoa!”

“We performed for our school yesterday,” said teacher Alicia Bell, 46, of Waukegan. “We really enjoy it,” she said of the choir. “They get better and better, and this year everyone did a great job,” she said.

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