ONEONTA, N.Y. - Student-athletes at Oneonta are educating college students and local high school students about the dangers associated with high-risk alcohol consumption, and the negative effects it has on student-athlete performance.
One-to-two student-athletes from each Oneonta athletic team are participating in a relatively new program known as Oneonta Players Reaching Other Students, otherwise referred to as OPROS. Oneonta women's basketball coach Daphne Thompson, who works with OPROS student-athletes, says the peer mentor program aims to facilitate active and passive programming to other students with an emphasis in reaching athletes, new students (first year and transfer), and local high school students. The goals are to reduce the frequency of high risk drinking (five or more drinks at a sitting), increase student-athlete awareness about alcohol and its effects on athletic performance, and enhance normative education to new students during orientation. The program also aims to establish a six-week, intensive OPROS outreach effort in the six residence halls that house new students, while providing comprehensive alcohol education to local high school students.
OPROS was founded last year, but Thompson says the idea for such a program came about well before then. "The idea was created in 2015 in preparation for submitting the request for the CHOICES Grant," she explained.
That grant comes from the NCAA CHOICES Alcohol Education Grant Program, through the support of the Anheuser-Busch Foundation. The grant program provides funding for NCAA member institutions and conferences to integrate athletics departments into campus-wide efforts to reduce alcohol abuse.
Last week, OPROS student-athletes reached out to some local high school students. Oneonta junior Olivia Allrich, who plays on the women's basketball team, is one of the student-athletes who is part of the OPROS initiative. "I wanted to join OPROS to better educate myself and my team on the dangers of toxic drinking, as well as providing adequate information for harm prevention in emergency situations," she said.
While talking with the high school students, the student-atheltes focused on educating them on the risks associated with alcohol consumption. "We read them the statistics regarding drinking culture, and a lot of them asked very thoughtful questions regarding drinking and how we balance school while still having a social life," Allrich said. "While working with the high schoolers, I thought it was very important to be 100% honest and upfront with every answer and statistic."
Oneonta junior softball player Julia Calabro said some high school students view the college culture in a negative light, largely because of their perceptions of the relationship between college students and alcohol consumption. "Many of them thought that college students are drinking and going out every night of the week, and jump at every opportunity that comes their way to drink. When we explained to them some of our team policies on going out [to drink] before games and practices, they were surprised," she shared.
The OPROS student-athletes believe the initiative is already making a difference to the people they've reached. "I feel like we are reaching a wide range of the student body and by doing so, we are closer to not only changing the drinking culture, but providing everyone with the knowledge to act in the best manner possible," Allrich explained.
"Having the ability to reach out to other students, and teach them how to be responsible and make smart choices when it comes to alcohol, has been very beneficial," Calabro added. "Being able to help people when in need, which this program has given me the confidence to do, is also extremely gratifying."
The OPROS student-athletes explained that the outreach to local kids is critical. "Usually, the ones who make poor choices with alcohol are students who are misinformed," Oneonta junior and baseball player Joe Canonaco said. "High school is an especially dangerous time, because students begin drinking and going out, usually without having much knowledge about alcohol and what it can do. By educating high school students, there's less of a chance of an alcohol-related incident occurring early in their lives. Along with this, high school students with this education will be better informed when they go off to college."
"High school students are the next set of students to be going into this new phase of life, and going from a high school setting to college is a large jump," Allrich added. "A lot of them can lose their way or be unaware of the dangers that do exist if they are not knowledgable on everything that could happen."
Besides preparing future college students, OPROS is making a conscientious effort to help raise awareness on the dangers of high-risk alcohol consumption to the students already on the Oneonta campus. "I've become a peer mentor to some of the new athletes this year," Oneonta senior and women's lacrosse athlete Jaclyn Marry shared.
"I participated in many different tabling activities in the student dorms to help educate the student body about facts regarding alcohol," Calabro added. "Through our new mentor program, I mentored three freshmen athletes on alcohol education, nutrition facts, and questions regarding academics."
This academic year marks year two that the CHOICES Grant has been helping keep the OPROS initiative intact. Thompson explained that the grant expires after year three, which will have an effect on the program. "Financially it will be impacted, but the goal is to be able to continue the work that is being done with institutional support," she shared.
OPROS student-athletes certainly hope the work they've been doing will continue for more years to come, and continue to make a difference both on the Oneonta campus and across the community. "If we are able to educate one person and have them apply those skills when needed, then I see the program as a large success," Allrich said.