Team Spirit conference teaches teens about road safety

Sunday, July 26, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — “Come on baby! Click it, click it good!”

Those were the words that shot out of Sarcoxie High School adviser Jennifer Smith’s mouth, as she rallied her team to win the Quick Click Challenge on Friday evening at the Stoney Creek Inn.

The annual Team Spirit conference took place from Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon in Columbia. Students and advisers from 10 high schools all over Missouri traveled to town to participate.

According to the program's Web site, Team Spirit is a program developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program “to empower youth to take an active role in preventing alcohol and other drug use and the impaired driving that accompanies such use.”

In Missouri, Team Spirit holds three conferences each year: Kansas City, Cape Girardeau and either Jefferson City or Columbia.

Activities include workshops, speakers, docu-dramas and fun evening events.

“The purpose behind it is for us to bring in high school students to train them on unsafe driving habits and give them a bunch of different programs to take back with them,” said Carrie Wolken, the conference coordinator and youth coordinator for the Highway Safety Division of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The students attend different events and eventually develop their own action plan to take back to their school.

Advisers Quinnetta Howell and Sherry Wheat accompanied three students from Cabool High School. Students from Lutie High School joined with Cabool to form the group "Cabootie."

On Saturday morning, Technical Sgt. Jason Henke, a drug demand reduction coordinator for the Missouri National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, taught a session called Drug Trends.

In the hour-long session, Henke, who’s been with Team Spirit for 13 years, covered alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco and marijuana, explaining how each is made and their effects.

Although Henke cracked jokes to keep the students involved, the atmosphere was serious.

“When you buy drugs, you could very well be funding some very bad stuff,” Henke said.

But amid the serious nature of the conference, the students also found time for some entertaining events.

On Friday night, all 100 students gathered in a circle to beat drums, shake maracas and hit tambourines.

Soon after, the students participated in their version of the Olympics, during which they had to sit on a balloon, blow a cotton ball across the floor and eat a powdered doughnut off a stick.

The Quick Click Challenge might have been the most interesting challenge, as it involved four students racing to a car and hurriedly fastening their seat belts. The green team from Blair Oaks High School had a strategy: “Don’t yank on the belt,” the girls whispered to each other.

Columbia’s Team Spirit conference was full of high-energy students, with a strong desire to influence their communities and learn more about drugs and alcohol.

While some teams might fizzle when they return home, Henke said, “We just gotta keep fightin’ the good fight.”

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