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Pro athletes talk to Ronan teens about decision making

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RONAN — As part of the national Red Ribbon Week Campaign former Los Angeles Laker Michael Cooper and Los Angeles Rams Preston Dennard visited Ronan to speak to high school and middle school students about responsibility, decision making and saying no to drugs and alcohol. Both Cooper and Dennard spoke candidly about serious choices and events in their lives that could have derailed the success they were on the path for. 

Dennard kicked off the presentation for a full auditorium at Ronan High School. He began with his journey as student athlete at the collegiate level, emphasizing the importance the academic side. 

“Although I made all conference as a freshman, my first year of college I came home for Christmas with a 0.6 GPA. Do I quit, do I cry, do I blame others? Do I start having an attitude about education?” Dennard posed. “I made the choice to go to school in that second semester from 7:30 in the morning to 9:00 o’clock at night. I was the only player on my team that had to do that.” 

These sacrifices led to success in the classroom, Dennard said, achieving a 3.75 GPA and becoming eligible for his sophomore year. During that sophomore year he became an All-American and team captain and that led to the NFL draft and eventually a championship.

Dennard went on to speak about his own five sons and their choices that took them to where they are today. While his two oldest boys did well and made great choices throughout their lives, Dennard spoke about how his third son endured hard times due to making poorer decisions.

“My third son is 39 years old, is a former drug addict. Six foot two and half, star athlete who left high school after his freshman year,” Dennard stated. “I can’t force him or anyone, I can just share with you why I’m standing here today. I can read you a 300-word text about how his response to me is fueled with drug infested mentality. I believe that my son who left high school after his freshman year will always have the mentality of a freshman in high school.”

Dennard emphasized that the choice and mentality that the students have now will affect every part of life moving forward. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 31% of Montana students grade seven through 12 drink alcohol, and 18% had their first drink before the age of 13. 37% of students have tried marijuana with 20% active users. These high numbers have the potential to affect these students’ mentality and ability to succeed as teens, young adults, and adults. With the rise in seriously dangerous drugs in the state, like fentanyl, learning to make good choices as students can keep them clear of drug use and potential downfalls.

“Drugs are never going away. Why not try and fight for your life? Why not have us come and talk to you and share with you the realism of this world?” Dennard commented. “If you don’t invest in you, right now, you will miss out on a beautiful opportunity to blossom into an adult. Every one of you right now have a fair opportunity to accomplish everything you want. You may have bumps in the road, but they won’t be so dangerous you can’t overcome.”

Dennard then introduced a friend from his University of New Mexico days Michael Cooper. Cooper, part of the 1980s Lakers team, has visited Mission Valley since 1983, eventually putting on various basketball camps and tournaments in the community. A five-time champion, Cooper shared what attributes he would advise young people to strive for to be successful in whatever path they choose

 “I want to share with you ‘Coops Five D’s.’ They are determination, dedication, desire, discipline and decision making,” Cooper shared. “And how I came up with ‘Five D’s’ is that’s what my report card read.”

After averaging 15 points and three slam dunks per game in 12th grade, Cooper asked his coach why he wasn’t getting a scholarship to any universities like some of his teammates. The coach answered that the universities didn’t think he’d survive in college with the academic performance he’d displayed so far. This was the moment that changed Coopers mentality about what it would take to be successful, he said. 

“I hit what people called a fork in the road. I had to turn around that concept of being an athlete student. I wasn’t an athlete anymore for my freshman year, so I dove into turning that around and being a student athlete. Instead of coming in and sitting in the back of the room, I sat right up front. It took determination to do that, I had to have desire to do my classwork so I could achieve what I wanted, which was being a basketball player. Because of that decision to change, I was able to get a scholarship to the University of New Mexico.”

Without the ‘Five D’s’ and his perspective change about the hard work it took, Cooper thinks he could have had a short career without much to look back on. But because he continued to persevere, he was able to play in nine finals, winning five of them. 

Cooper never did drugs or drank, even when his peers might be partaking. He shared a tragic story of a fellow player named Len Bias who was expected to take the Boston Celtics to another level. Two days after Len was drafted, Cooper explained, his friend took him to a party. At this party, Len decided to use drugs for the first time, and this decision cost him his life. 

“Sometimes you don’t get a second chance,” Cooper said. “You don’t have to remember all of the “Five D’s’ but if you can just remember one, it can change your life. Or even save your life.”

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