Alles, Dahlstrom participate in Youth Speakers' Program

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS -- Griffen Dahlstrom and Taylor Alles hustle about the room with a mob of other teenagers, all engaged in an array of heart-pumping activities. After 60 seconds they repeat the same activity, this time breathing only through a straw. More running, pushups, jumping jacks, and then the facilitator calls time. A sigh of relief spreads through the room.

"We're simulating what it might be like for a long-time smoker to engage in the same activity as a top high school athlete," said Mark Kaser, program director and lead facilitator at Indiana Teen Institute (ITI). "Public speakers can use hands-on activities like this to engage and interact with their audiences."

In December, Dahlstrom and Alles, both seniors at North Putnam high school, joined other student-athletes from across the state as participants in the Youth Speakers' Bureau Program, developed by the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation (ITPC). With the help of Kaser and ITI, the organization that facilitated the training, the program provides participants with the insights necessary to deliver confident, well-constructed speeches on the importance of remaining tobacco-free.

The 40 participants in this year's program were chosen from the 128 student-athletes that are part of the IHSAA Role Model Program. Now in its sixth year, the Role Model Program addresses vital health and wellness issues concerning teens, like abstaining from tobacco use, while encouraging students to embrace their role model-status in the community.

Students who signed a pledge agreeing to be tobacco, drug and alcohol free and serve as positive role models for the community furthered their dedication to the Role Model Program by attending one of two all-day training sessions.

"After witnessing the long term effects of smoking through the straw exercise, I could not imagine competing in an athletic event with such restricted lung capacity," said Dahlstrom.

After attending the training session, Dahlstrom and Alles honed their anti-tobacco speeches, which they will present to groups throughout their community.

"Anti-tobacco messages from these top-notch student-athletes pack a powerful punch, as peer influence is the main reason many teens begin, and continue smoking," said IHSAA Commissioner Blake Ress. "With this program, these role models have taken their commitment to positively influence their communities to a new level."