WVSSAC joins WVU, Marshall in ‘Game Changer’ campaign aimed at opioid epidemic

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Aiming to thwart the scourge of opioid-related deaths, the state’s high school athletic association is joining with West Virginia and Marshall universities to host a two-day opioid awareness summit in September.

The event intends to bring thousands of high school students to the WVU Coliseum on Sept. 17 with another gathering inside Cam Henderson Center on Sept. 18. Committed to reaching 150,000 students, the summit will be live-streamed to every middle school and high school across West Virginia.

“It’s much easier to deal with the prevention world than it is to deal with addiction,” said Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Dolan began gauging interest for an initiative in May 2018, and within hours received commitments from numerous county school systems and the state’s leading universities. WVSSAC corporate partner MVB Bank joined the mission, and former NBA player Chris Herren, a recovering opioid addict, will be among the lineup of speakers. 

“We wanted to get a tidal wave moving forward,” Dolan said.

Tuesday’s announcement featured WVU president Gordon Gee, Marshall president Jerome Gilbert and athletics directors from both schools, Shane Lyons and Mike Hamrick.

“To have 7,000 to 10,000 young people coming to our campus to talk about prevention of opioid use, that got us going,” Lyons said.

Mountaineers and Herd athletes will be on hand as part of the outreach.

“There’s a lot of people who look at Jon Elmore, C.J. Burks, Rondale Watson or Chase Hancock as role models,” Hambrick said. “Plus, our student-athletes aren’t past the stage where this could affect their lives. This issue is there your whole life. So maybe we can educate them through the summit.”

Don Robinson, CFO of MVB Bank, has seven children who participating in youth league and high school sports. He called his company’s involvement in the summit “the right thing to do.”

The “Be A Game Changer” campaign features information at wvgamechanger.com, which will offer T-shirts and bumper stickers.

Also in attendance Tuesday were state Superintendent Steven Paine and Johnny Moore, president of Pierpont Technical College.

Former WVU sports information director Joe Boczek, who emceed the panel discussion, related the addiction struggles his daughter faced in college.

“That began an awful three-year odyssey, but now daughter is seven years clean,” he said. 

Calling the summit “a massive financial undertaking,” Boczek credited the WVSSAC with enlisting addiction specialists and counselors in an effort to redirect young people away from drug use.

“We’re aware that we’re not going to beat the epidemic on Sept. 17 and 18,” Boczek said, “but we’re going to kick off the destruction right then.”

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