It's Wednesday morning, the third day of the drug prevention camp, and Ricky Lewis wants to ask a question: "Do you feel obligated?"
He is talking to Sheila Seay, a softball player and, like him, an athlete at Spingarn High School. She lowers her head in thought, then says, "I do. They're little kids going up and down the street to the ones who sell heroin and drugs. Those are the ones I want to transfer this info to."
Lewis, a senior guard on Spingarn's basketball team, wants to pass on information, too. "I'm exposed to it 24 hours. I see younger kids on the corner selling PCP. Selling PCP. I've seen people fight over drugs. People step on someone's shoe and get killed because they don't say sorry quick enough," Lewis says. "The problem is no one has ever told them what's wrong. For every guy like me, there are five saying 'It's beautiful.' I want to tell them, 'It's all right to go to the gym and play ball.' "
Lewis is one of several Spingarn athletes who took part in the voluntary drug prevention camp last week at the National 4-H Center on Connecticut Ave. The purpose is to organize what Jerry Edwards, the national coordinator, calls a "critical mass" or "support group" of high school athletes who will return to their neighborhoods and fight drug abuse by being role models and educators.
The program, Super Teams, Ltd., which is sponsored by the National Football League Players Association and the Drug Enforcement Administration, began two years ago in Johnson City, N.Y., under the direction of Edwards. With the help of former Washington Redskins safety Brig Owens, Spingarn athletic director Frank Parks and about $20,000 raised by the Touchdown Club, Edwards was able to bring the camp to the District.
"Athletes who have tremendous influence at the schools are the first to hit," said Edwards. "In a class, if you get one third of the persons involved, you can turn it around like that. I would like to see young people develop positive norms for other kids to live by."
The teaching of communication skills is an integral part of the program. It bonds the athletes and helps them deal with people on the streets. In one activity, Edwards had the athletes negotiate a contract with the counselors and their peers on what they wanted to get out of the program, and the rules each side would have to adhere to.
"They (Super Team counselors) trust us as individuals and they're concerned about the younger generation," said Dirk Logan, a senior quarterback and safety. "They give us a chance to express our views."
"They don't preach to us. They express to us," said Michel McBride, a senior who plays nose guard and offensive guard. "I've learned how to talk to adults and my peers without being afraid. I found out other people care, too."
Former Washington Bullets forward Bobby Dandridge, who spoke at the sessions along with Gene Upshaw, executive director of NFLPA, and former Washington Redskins defensive end Jimmy Jones, was able to empathize with the athletes, having encountered similar situations growing up in Richmond.
"They will probably be ostracized," said Dandridge. "I tell them to use your athletic strength and courage to solve personal problems. These athletes have natural inner strength . . . Athletes are looked up to. If an athlete is offered drugs and says 'no,' others will have the pressure to take the extra time to think about it."
Upshaw told the athletes, "Be like a sponge in here and take it out to the field. They used to tell me when I was with the Raiders that anyone can call heads or tails on the coin. But it's what you do after is what's important."
For the athletes, the real test begins when they leave the friendly smiles of the camp. Most will take horror stories along, if they already hadn't experienced them.
A while back, McBride said his mother took him down to Southeast to visit his cousin. On the street, pushers came up to his car and tried to sell him "reefer and love boat (PCP)," and he remembers rolling up the windows and pleading with his mother to leave. He was thinking, "Why do they want to sell us drugs and get us killed?"
With the knowlege he has received from Super Teams, McBride said, "I will still say no and show them medical reasons and walk away. Before, I would just walk away. Now, I would just walk up to them and tell them the effects . . . I'll tell them they should join the program."
Kenny Allen, a senior linebacker and running back, is afraid that he'll meet someone who won't listen. "He might be older and say, 'He's young, he doesn't know what he's talking about.' " But, he adds, "I will try to talk to him, get him to sit down and listen to what I have to say. At least I will be able to say, 'I gave it my best shot.' "