2010-08-25 / News

High school athletes learn of alcohol dangers

AP Sports Writer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) Organizers of high school athletics in New Mexico want students across the nation to know Gabe Gurule's story.

A three-sport standout at Manzano High School in Albuquerque, Gurule lost his spot on the football team after he started drinking alcohol. That ended a flow of college scholarship letters from schools like Nebraska, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Today, he's serving an 8-year prison sentence after killing three people in a drunken driving crash early on Thanksgiving Day 2005.

Just in time for the fall sports season, Gurule's story anchors a new website aimed at educating high school athletes about the dangers of alcohol use.

Robert Zayas, a New Mexico Activities Association administrator who crafted the Life of an Athlete program, said underage drinking is a serious problem across the United States and it costs New Mexico residents $243 million each year in medical care and work loss.

According to a 2008 survey, Zayas said 72 percent of high school seniors reported having consumed alcohol and 55 percent reporting having been drunk at least once.

Cooper Henderson, coach of one of New Mexico's top football programs at Artesia High School, said he's seen plenty of students with alcohol issues since he started his career in 1977.

``We've definitely had problems, like every community does,'' he said. ``What I like about this approach is that it's positive. So much of our education with alcohol, we often end up in punitive situations where we're reacting instead of doing proactive things. This is a proactive program.''

This school year, all Artesia athletes will be required to participate in the program.

Although the site is maintained by the New Mexico Activities Association, students anywhere in the United States can access it and take part. The website contains easy-to-understand information about what happens to athletes after they consume alcohol. Among the information:

Drinking to intoxication can nullify as much as two weeks of training.

Alcohol reduces performance potential by up to 11.4 percent in elite athletes and by perhaps as much as 15 to 30 percent in high school athletes.

Drinkers are twice as likely to become injured as nondrinkers.

Alcohol reduces the immune system's capability, so athletes who drink become ill more often.

Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to more than 4,600 deaths among underage drinkers every year in the United States.

Zayas worked with the American Athletic Institute to secure a $400,000 grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation to get the program running.

Zayas said the goal was to communicate the message in a way that encourages high school students to pay attention. The website uses interactive pages to present facts and screen shots that feature photos of athletes from New Mexico high schools.

``Never before have high school athletes been given information in this manner,'' Zayas said. ``There's no other high school association in the nation talking to kids ... about the dangers of alcohol as it relates to their athletic performance.''

The site also features PGA Tour golfer Notah Begay of Albuquerque, who candidly describes how his problems with alcohol led to an embarrassing drunken driving arrest.

Videotaped interviews with Gurule are shown, too. He's wearing an orange inmate jumpsuit and speaking from inside the Los Lunas Correctional Facility.

Gurule told how his relationships soured with family and friends because ``my heart was set on partying and drinking.'' Later, he described his night of drinking and poignantly related how he knew he was responsible for the three deaths.

``The truth is, what really happened, I killed three people in a car accident on Thanksgiving Day,'' Gurule said. ``I took them from their families. ... Because I made the wrong choice, they had to pay for it.''

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