Drug, alcohol message delivered with panache

Improvisational comedy and presentations to high school students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol don’t typically go together.

On Wednesday, 1980 Warren Area High School alumnus Brent Scarpo brought his message, and his original delivery method, to his alma mater.

The presentation, Last Call, is an interactive, theatrical program.

“This will be unlike any drug and alcohol program you’ve ever been through,” Scarpo said to the assembled students as he walked among them carrying a liquor bottle asking about their alcoholic drinks of choice. “I’m your host and you are the partiers.”

He asked for a show of hands from students who have drank alcohol, for those who have operated a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, been charged with DUI, and other activities that are illegal for almost every high school student. He asked for transparency, for honesty. “I’m interested in your story,” he said. “It’s not about judging you or telling you what to do.”

Some students raised their hands in response to each question. Many raised hands when asked if they’d ever had an alcoholic drink.

Scarpo called on volunteers to talk about certain subjects – from finding “liquid courage” to being charged with underage consumption.

And he had volunteers perform improvisational comedy.

Senior Hunter Mohney and junior Kaitlin Ishman joined Scarpo on stage for “Going to the Party.”

They acted out a scene.

Mohney drove the three of them, with Scarpo as Ishman’s friend Samantha, to a party in his new Ferrari. Samantha shared Adderall and Xanax with Ishman shortly before Mohney was pulled over for careless driving.

Both of the students wore “beer goggles” – eyewear that simulates impairment – and tried to walk a straight line for Trooper Scarpo.

“I hit a table,” Mohney said when asked what it was like to walk wearing the goggles.

Scarpo didn’t tell the students not to drink or take drugs, but he warned them of some of the possible consequences.

In terms of fines, legal fees, and other monetary costs, a DUI charge costs the driver $3,000 to $5,000.

Scarpo informed students that they can be charged with DUI without getting behind the wheel of a car or truck. He said tractors, boats, bicycles, even skateboards and wheelchairs are vehicles in the eyes of the law.

“Prescription drugs are at a lot of our parties,” he said. “Prescription drugs is the number one killer of young people in this country right now.”

He told them to prepare in advance by putting the numbers of taxi companies or people who will pick them up without questions in their phones, keeping money that they will never spend except in a true emergency, and not leaving any situation alone.

Scarpo listed the signs of alcohol poisoning – vomiting; cold, clammy, or bluish skin; shallow, infrequent, or irregular breathing; unconsciousness – and the steps to take in response.

Taking photos and posting them on the Internet was one of the things not to do.

He urged students to take serious action if they encounter someone suffering from alcohol poisoning and not to worry about that person’s reputation, parents, or anything else. “I beg you, do not be their future. Be their present,” he said.

He brought direct language, honesty, humor, and interaction with him.

The students were impressed. Scarpo’s local background enabled him to talk about popular party spots and generally have a clue about people in Warren County – “the way he could relate from being from around here,” Ishman said. “It was a good idea the way he showed everybody it’s a serious situation around here.”

“The audience actually confessed and opened up,” Mohney said. “They felt on his level. The improv brought some comedy to it, but it also had a serious moral.”

And his energy kept the students engaged.

“He did a better job of connecting with kids because of the approach that he took,” senior Cody McGraw said.

“I think it worked so well because he interacted with the audience,” senior Lauren Butina said.

“His energy kept the audience awake,” senior Lauren Beach said. “He’s a breath of fresh air.”

Assistant Principal Jim Evers said he believes Scarpo’s delivery was effective. “He seemed to keep their focus,” he said. “They need to understand that the choices they make impact their lives. Hopefully, guys like this can help them make better choices.”

Scarpo has announced a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded to a student on the basis of character. “It’s not about grades… it’s not about sports,” he said. “I think it’s important to have good character.”

He asked teachers to nominate students.