Go Purple campaign draws crowd in finale
WORTON — Kent County showed up by the hundreds Friday night, Sept. 28, a testament to the community buy-in of the Go Purple public awareness campaign that spotlights substance abuse.
A crowd estimated at about 1,500 filled the bleachers of Trojan Stadium for the Kent-Queen Anne’s high school football game, and many of them stayed afterward to hear Qadry Ismail, a member of the Baltimore Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl championship team, talk about what needs to be done to keep young people off the path of destruction.
“Kids are under tremendous pressure to fit in, and that includes succumbing to negative peer pressure,” Ismail said from a makeshift stage on the Kent County sideline.
To combat that, “we as a community have to draw the line in the sand and be that community that says ‘enough is enough.’ … We will not say it is OK to do drugs, to numb our minds. We should be trying to elevate and educate. Let us be a community that supports one another,” Ismail said, speaking without a script.
He urged parents to have the “hard conversation” with their children about the perils of drug use.
To the student athletes, cheerleaders and marching band members in the audience — who Ismail characterized as “our future” — he said, “It’s OK to hang out and have fun, but you only get this one chance to live life. Let’s live it to the fullest.”
Ismail spent 10 years in the National Football League, retiring at the conclusion of the 2002 season. He played for five NFL teams but had the most success with the Ravens. He gained more than 1,000 yards receiving in two of his three seasons (1999-2001) in Baltimore.
He was a football and track star in high school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and a two-sport All-American Brown University.
But he didn’t talk about himself this Friday night.
He began by congratulating the Trojans and the Lions for playing a competitive game, and telling them that will remember “the moments” of a big rivalry game like this for a long time. He also recognized Kent and Queen Anne’s as two wellcoached programs.
The football game was the culminating event of the month-long Kent Goes Purple initiative, sponsored by the Chestertown Rotary Club and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office. The large crowd could be attributed in part to the free admission that was offered to anyone who wore purple, the chance to win Ravens memorabilia and unrestricted access to Ismail, who signed autograph after autograph.
“It was so much fun, and even though we lost, everybody had so much school spirit,” said Kent County High School junior Mallory Helfenbein.
The Go Purple movement is more than a football game.
And Helfenbein gets that. “The fact that the whole community and school were coming together for such a great cause made it even better,” she wrote in a text message Tuesday night, Oct. 2. “It was nice at to know that many people care about the same issues and are willing to do something about it in order to raise awareness and make the community better as a whole,” she said.
Players from Queen Anne’s County High School and their families and friends also were invited to join in the Kent Goes Purple festivities at the game.
“Our two counties are connected on so many levels — geographically, historically, culturally and commercially — and our communities need to tackle the opioid crisis together because the drugs don’t stop at the border,” said Andy Meehan, a member of the Chestertown Rotary Club and one of the Kent Goes Purple organizers.
Rotarian Kirk Helfenbein, another of the organizers, said “the fact that this project was embraced by both Kent and Queen Anne’s counties not only underlines the concern for this invasive epidemic but the widespread understanding of the true definition of community.”
Kent County Sheriff John Price said he was very pleased with the public’s participation in all three events: the lighting of the courthouse on Sept. 7, the 5K color fun run two days later and the home football game against Queen Anne’s.
“The community seemed to be really engaged, and that’s what we wanted,” said Price, hair purple game.
“I was very happy with the message that we were able to get out, that people need to start talking with their families and their kids.”
The sheriff said school resource deputies at Kent County Middle School and Kent County High School related to him that educational messages broadcasted in those schools resonated with the students. The same educational information was shared with Kent School, Radcliffe Creek School and Chestertown Christian Academy.
“It’s really important to get kids at a very young age when we can steer them in the right direction to be drug free,” Price said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
This was the first of what who dyed his for the football is expected to be an annual initiative.
The focus this year was on students in grades six through 12 — countywide, in public and private schools.
The plan is to broaden the scope to elementary schoolage students and the faithbased community in 2019.
“The inaugural series of events was something very special and has hopefully increased awareness and sparked a renewed dialogue about the dangers of substance abuse,” Meehan wrote in an email earlier this week. “The outpouring of support from local businesses, agencies, institutions and individuals was phenomenal, and we connected with folks from all walks of life and all corners of Kent County.”
“I think it was great for our first year,” Price added.
Retired NFL player Qadry Ismail, the keynote speaker at the Friday, Sept. 28, Kent Goes Purple high school football game, tells the crowd it is not OK to use drugs.