By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Bob Anastas can’t stand writing the number 6,000.
Every time he does, including Thursday afternoon on a board displayed in front of a crowd of ninth- through 12th-graders at Lowellville High School, he wants only to put his fist through it.
To Anastas, that number represents much more than how many people between age 16 and 19 died in alcohol-related accidents in 1981, the year he founded Students Against Driving Drunk at Wayland High School in Massachusetts. Out of those 6,000 fatalities, he still thinks of two.
“I lost two of my athletes four days apart in drunk- driving accidents,” said Anastas, who coached ice hockey and taught at the high school. “The death of those boys devastated me.”
Since then, Anastas’ mission — and the mission of SADD, which in 1997 became Students Against Destructive Decisions — has been to help teenagers avoid the bad choices, such as underage drinking and other drug use, that can affect their lives long past high school, or even end them.
In his presentation to Lowellville students, his last of several visits to area schools this week, Anastas emphasized that destiny is not a matter of chance. Instead, it’s a matter of choice.
One choice he urged students to make was to become part of the “25 percent.”
The 25 percent, made up of driven individuals, “is where you become the winner,” he said.
It stands in stark contrast to the “75 percent,” which is made up of those who are unmotivated followers, making excuse after excuse for their failings. These behaviors of the 75 percent are self-destructive, Anastas explained, and they stand in the way of success in life, whether it’s in the military, or school, or the workforce.
“The more you drink, the more you do drugs, the more you have low self-esteem, the more you blame everyone else, the more you make life easier for everyone else,” Anastas said. “This small group competing here, [the 25 percent], you’ve made them the very best.”
But there’s hope, Anastas told students. The path toward being in the 25 percent is “very simple,” consisting of only four steps, and it doesn’t cost a penny to follow.
He added that the choice is now: You’re either going to stay in the 75 percent — forever haunted by the phrase, “Boy, what I might’ve been only if” — or you’re going to move to the 25 percent.
“You better choose well, my friends,” Anastas said. “You better choose well.”
The first characteristic of those in the 25 percent is that “they run when the other guy walks,” and are well aware that a first impression is the most important impression they will ever make. Secondly, they will sleep when the other guy is awake, partying and drinking.
The third and fourth characteristics, respectively, are that they take their weakness and make it their strength, and that they keep the mind and body drug-free.
“If that guy did those four things and you didn’t, you can’t compete,” Anastas said. “They’re going to beat you every time.”
Greg Gulas — the athletic director for Lowellville Local Schools who helped set up Anastas’ area visits, including a presentation to Lowellville’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders — said he hopes students understand that they are in control of their lives, but also that they are not infallible. The message is a timely one, he added, considering that the high school’s prom is today.
“It’s when the message is best delivered,” Gulas said, noting that Anastas’ presentations were sponsored by RL Lipton Distributing Co. “And it was well delivered.”
Many students agreed, including junior Phil Ginnis, who called the presentation both helpful and eye-opening. Ginnis said he’ll now think far more about the long-term effects of his decisions, including those in the near future.
“I think it really changed some people’s minds on what they’re going to do this weekend,” Ginnis added. “It definitely changed my mind.”