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Rumble of Thunder – October 13, 2015

Photo of Dr. HughesAs many of you may know by the reporting from various news outlets, a group of Central Valley students were found to have used cocaine on school premises. As mentioned on WIBX during my appearance this morning, the drug use occurred on a bus on the way to an athletic contest. Thankfully, others stepped forward and informed us so that a full investigation could take place. I thank not only Mr. Keeler and Mr. Kozak, but also the Ilion Police Department, for their efforts with the investigation. The investigation resulted in the out of school suspension of the students involved, removal from the team and most likely the loss of additional sport seasons. For some, this might end the issue as the perpetrating students have been disciplined.  For others, there has been a call for random drug testing of all students, no matter the legal or fiscal obstacle involved. While I am not an expert on the issues related to drug use and addiction, I believe we all need to be involved in an open and honest conversation about drugs and the dangers they pose for our children.

Drug abuse occurs in every community and school district. It knows no boundaries whether a person is rich or poor, white or black, from the city or the country. During my opening day address to our faculty and staff, I shared a story about a student from my time as a principal and athletic director in a different school district. Alex came to our school as the middle child in a family of five. His family arrived from England to our rural town just as I was beginning my career in administration. Alex was a sophomore at the time with an older brother starting his senior year and a younger sister in middle school. Sometimes it’s difficult for new students to fit in. Alex didn’t have that problem.  He was outgoing, smart, athletic and possessed a quick wit. Alex and his older brother immediately made an impact on our soccer team with their hard work, skill and European brand of soccer. Little did we know at the time, the two of them were key building blocks for the soccer team’s future success and eventual Section IV title.

Over the three years Alex was in school, we often chatted. During one of those conversations, we were talking about how a number of other students seemed to be effected by alcohol and drug use. The prevalence of prescription pain killers was just starting to be noticed and this seemed to be the drug of choice for some of his peers. At the time, Alex made a comment that I didn’t think much of, but now as I look back I realize it had a much deeper meaning.  As we discussed the possible drug issue amongst his peers, Alex said to me, “Mr. Hughes, if you only knew.” I thought Alex was reaffirming my concerns about drug use amongst some of his peers, so that was the end of that part of the conversation. Alex graduated and went on to college and I left the area a couple years later to be a superintendent.

A few years ago, I heard that Alex had been stopped and was found to be in possession of drugs including pain medication and heroin. This sent my mind spinning as now his previous comment from years prior had a whole new meaning. I wanted to reach out to him, but hesitated as we hadn’t spoken in years. I figured it would work out for him as he had a wonderful and loving family. I couldn’t have been more naïve as I truly didn’t understand how complex drug addiction truly is. Last year, I was sitting in my office when I got a text message from a friend saying call me. Those type of messages are never good. I made the call and was told that Alex had died of a drug overdose. Within minutes my cell and office phone blew up with colleagues and friends calling to tell me about Alex as they knew we were close. My mind raced to try and make sense of his senseless death. Why didn’t I notice the signs of drug abuse and addiction? Why didn’t I reach out to Alex when I heard he was in trouble as maybe it could have made a difference? What could I have done differently?

By the time our children are seniors in high school, 70% will have tried alcohol, 50% will have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20% will have abused a prescription drug as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The incident with our students is no different than anywhere else. The adolescent brain is not full developed as shown below. The frontal areas of the brain that weigh long-term consequences and control impulse are among the last to fully develop.

Image from an article on brain development showing progressive stages of brain development for ages 5-20


Source: U.S. News and World Report, Nov. 26, 2008

We can choose to believe that the incident at Central Valley was a one-time incident or that no child we personally know is effected by drug use. It’s always some other school or town or someone else’s kid. Or we can choose to come together to find ways to help our Thunder make healthy choices and give them a strong social and educational foundation for success. In the very near future, Central Valley will hold its first of what I hope will be many community forums on the dangers of drug use. We are currently in communication with area agencies to determine a time and format for the forum. The three main areas I believe we should focus on to impact all our Thunder are:

  1. Prevention through ongoing education and awareness including training on the signs of drug use and addiction,
  2. Assistance and counseling for those who struggle with drug use and addiction, and
  3. Consequences as per our code of conduct and through partnerships with our area law enforcement for those that are unwilling to seek assistance or choose to expose our Thunder to drugs.

We certainly can’t do this alone. Let’s work together to make a difference so that another shining light, such as Alex’s, is not extinguished from this Earth before it’s time.

As always if you have a question, concern or information, do not hesitate to reach us at 315-894-9934 or