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OSU athletes fight against high-risk drinking

CORVALLIS — Oregon State University plans to enlist the assistance of athletes in a new campaign to address high-risk drinking by students.

Called OSU Choices, the three-year project will use a $30,000 grant from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The goal is to reduce the number of students who engage in high-risk drinking, defined as five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting.

For the first time OSU plans to use athletes as trainers in on-campus workshops aimed at the general student body. In the past, staff members from the Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center have been primarily responsible for developing alcohol-related programs.

“Student-athletes are well-positioned to be leaders on OSU’s campus,” said Sara Caldwell-Kan with OSU’s Student Health Services. “Being well-known and credible members of the OSU community they have the ability to spread positive messages regarding student behavior and health.”

Rob Reff, director of the Alcohol, Drug and Violence Prevention Center, noted that studies show that educational messages resonate more strongly when they come from someone students identify as being in their group.

Also, OSU officials said, athletes are team-oriented and leadership-driven and typically have a shared set of values that makes them good choices to speak to the broader student community.

The program will start in August when athletes begin returning to school to train for the fall season. John Ruyak, an alcohol, drug and recovery specialist in Student Health Services, said the goal will be to have a group of athletes trained so that the outreach to general students can begin with the start of school in late September.

Athletes will team up with Ruyak and graduate students in Student Health Services on the presentations. Ruyak said project leaders hope that prospective athlete trainers will “self-identify” during the fall sessions.

Ruyak said that athlete participation is not mandatory but that “we want to encourage them to be part of the program.”

Ruyak also said that there is no particular emphasis on attracting a high-profile athlete to serve as a trainer.

“Anyone who steps up is who we want,” Ruyak said. “That being said we are putting student-athletes as the face of the campaign and if we can get someone well-known that would help that.”

Ruyak added that Student Heath Services already has made a presentation to a student-athlete advisory committee, and he said that “a lot of them already are interested. Finding (athletes) who are leaders won’t be a problem.”

Kimya Massey, senior associate athletic director for student-athlete development, agreed.

"This is a win-win situation for all parties involved," he said.

The $30,000 will be spent on salaries for student staff who will help run, market and evaluate the program.