Originally created 09/14/99

Anti-drug speaker Ex-coach tells of athletes' habits



AIKEN -- An Atlanta evangelist used comedy and tales of deadly consequences Monday in a schoolhouse challenge to Aiken teen-agers to "take a stand against drugs and alcohol."

Rick Gage, a nationally acclaimed speaker and former assistant football coach for Texas Tech University, spoke to hundreds of pupils at South Aiken High and Kennedy Middle schools.

At a 2 p.m. appearance in the Kennedy gymnasium, Mr. Gage addressed 800 young people "who may be in the drug scene or the partying scene."

"Ask yourself this question, `Is my life better today, is it stronger today and does it have more meaning today after doing drugs and alcohol?"' he asked "Just stop and evaluate the direction of your life."

The evangelist speaks to schools across the nation with a assembly program called "On Track," encouraging pupils to have personal integrity when faced with tough decisions over alcohol, drugs, guns and violence.

He tells stories of other teen-agers and college and pro athletes who ruined their lives with bad choices.

"Teen-agers, we need to understand that you are not bullet-proof," he told the middle schoolers.

While Mr. Gage is an evangelist, he doesn't directly preach religion to students, avoiding any mention of Jesus.

He mentioned God and invited the pupils to a Monday night event at Town Creek Baptist Church for a "See You at the Pole" rally, a preview for the national event at 7 a.m. Wednesday in which students meet around school flagpoles and pray for their schools.

On Monday, Mr. Gage also spoke about the difference God has made in his life.

"I am so glad that I can stand before an audience like this, and I can tell you unashamedly, as a 25-year-old football coach in 1984, I met a friend who changed my life," he said. "And the peace and the joy and the happiness I have, I wouldn't trade anything in the world for it."

Pupils were hushed during his tales of those ruined by bad choices. Later, pupil Paul Burdick said the evangelist made several good points.

"It was pretty good. It makes me think about life and not to do stuff -- like any kind of drugs or alcohol in the future," said Paul, a seventh-grader. "I'm not willing to risk my life for that kind of stuff."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.