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West County becomes part of ‘Cardinal Nation’

The gymnasium at West County Elementary School was a sea of St. Louis Cardinals shirts on Monday when students gave a warm welcome to former Cardinals member Al Hrabosky and the team’s mascot, Fredbird.

The two were in town to share their tips for success in life: Stay in school, play sports and do not do drugs.

&#8220Kids, I’m not promising you that if you do these three things, you’ll have a perfect life,” Hrabosky said. &#8220But you’ll be making a good start.”

Hrabosky and Fredbird, along with fellow Cardinal Andy Benes, visit approximately 70 schools around the state to schools each year to present the Cardinal’s drug prevention program, &#8220Doin’ It Right.”

The program is aimed at students in grades K-6 and includes a video with advice from baseball players. Monday’s hour-long session featured anecdotes, prizes, and a lot of laughter at the antics of the large red bird with the huge yellow beak and oversized red hi-top sneakers.

The program’s message stays with the children, West County Elementary Reading Coach Lisa Puller said.

&#8220I think they have such a powerful message delivered in an amusing and fun way,” Puller said. &#8220Hearing it from an icon like Fredbird sends it home.”

Former Cardinal Joe Cunningham started the free program about 22 years ago. Cunningham was jogging with an FBI agent when he shared his idea for a program that would promote staying in school and playing sports. The agent told Cunningham that the program sounded fine, but it needed an anti-drugs component. When Cunningham reminded the agent that the program was aimed at younger children, the agent replied that children need to hear substance abuse messages early, Hrabosky said.

The Cardinals bring the program to West County every three or four years, Puller said.

Before each program, children are asked to write an essay about drugs. On Monday, their typed essays hung on the halls of the school. Banners, pictures and bulletin boards showing the students’ support of the Cardinals and their opposition to drugs, tobacco and alcohol, also decorated the hallways of the elementary school.

Essay winners at West County were (by grade K-5) Matthew Clifton, Christiana Cantrell, Parker Forshee, Kourtney Hackworth, Sara Poe and Carissa Brewer.

Fredbird and Hrabosky invited several children to join them on the gym floor, where they shared their own anti-drug messages. Others shared their opinions at the end of the program.

&#8220It’s bad for you,” kindergarten student Reid Pratt said about drugs. &#8220You can get killed.”

Hrabosky told the children to stay in school, learn their lessons and get good grades.

&#8220At one time, a high school diploma was enough, but not any longer,” Hrabosky said. &#8220You’ve got to go to college. Stay in school, get an education and don’t drop out.”

He compared professional baseball to school. New ball players have a lot to learn, as do children entering kindergarten, Hrabosky said.

&#8220When I first started professional baseball, I was in the Rookie League, which can be compared to kindergarten,” he explained. &#8220The ‘A’ league is like elementary school, and ‘AA’ ball is similar to middle school. It’s more challenging and you have to work harder.”

‘AAA’ baseball is comparable to high school. If you do well, you &#8220graduate” to the major leagues (college), he added.

One way to afford college is to earn an academic scholarship, Hrabosky told the children. Another way is to play sports and earn a scholarship for athletic abilities, he added. Hrabosky also urged the students to take care of their bodies by eating well and exercising.

The message about drugs was not new for some students, but it reinforced their beliefs.

&#8220Say ‘no’ to drugs and stay in school,” second-grader Luke Bevington said. &#8220You can learn a lot more at school than at home.”

Kara Steel, a third-grader, does not like being in the company of people who smoke cigarettes.

&#8220They (cigarettes) can make your lungs bad and it’s really hard to breathe. It’s bad for your heart and gets you in bad shape,” Kara explained.

She plans to remain drug free and stay away from people who use drugs. One thing is clear, Kara explained.

&#8220Being around someone who uses drugs is not fun.”

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