I finished tying the laces and waited for something to happen. Nothing did. I looked down at the ice skates were attached to my feet. I looked for a sign to tell me that I could do this. I waited for a feeling that this was right, that I wanted to do this. Nothing.
I had made it through 17 years of my life without ice skating. Surely I could have gone another 17 more without the experience. There I was, however, ready to take the ice. Blame it on peer pressure; friends had urged me to join them and I couldn't resist. Big deal that I'd never been skating. It was no matter that I might have gone out there and broken my neck on the ice. I didn't want anyone to think that I was afraid, now did I?
I sat on a bench, building up the courage to stand up and make my way to the ice. I dreaded the moment that I would actually step out there. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I resisted the urge to rip off the skates and run out the rink, screaming.
My friends returned with their skates and laced up. I sat and watched them quietly. This was it. They were going to drag me out on the ice and I was going to break a vertebrae in my back and die. I just knew it. They were ready quickly and I stood reluctantly. We walked to the entrance to the ice and my mind worked furiously, trying to think of some excuse for me to stay on the bench. I knew that there was no escape now. I inched my way to the entrance, careful not to fall before I hit the ice. I could almost hear the execution drum beating in the distance.
"No!" I cried out suddenly.
I quickly made my way back to the safety of the bench. The puzzled looks of my friends made me feel foolish, but it was no matter. I refused to risk life and limb for a few minutes of "fun" on the ice. No way, no how.
"Uh, guys, go on without me. My leg cramped up." I lied.
"Sure," one of them said, and smiled knowingly. "Let us know when your leg feel better."
I caught my breath and cleared my head. Perhaps if I was calm, and rational, I could think of a decent excuse for not skating. I racked my brain, but came up, ultimately, wtih nothing. It was pretty apparent that I was going to have to skate, or look like a coward. I didn't want to do either.
As I made up my mind to sit and wallow in my self-pity, I noticed that Ryan, one of my friends out there, was straying from the group, appearing almost as nervous as I was. He certainly wasn't ashamed. He hung towards the side and didn't attempt the things the others did. He seemed talented enough with waht he did do, so if he'd only try these new things, I'd bet he'd be successful.
He did try to do a spin, but was unsuccessful and fell. Angry and embarrassed, Ryan left the ice and joined me on the bench. In an attempt to cheer him up, I admitted that I was afraid of the ice.
Wild horses couldn't have dragged me out there, yet somehow Ryan did. He talked me into it and we went into the ice together. Step by step, I made my way to the ice. I was afraid still. I looked inside myself for some confidence, listened for an inner voice to tell me that it was right. This time, there was something.
I was quite wobbly and very nervous as I hit the ice, but somehow managed to keep my spirits high. I actually laughed at myself. I was pathetic, and I knew it, so I might as well make the best of it. I might bruise my ego or my elbow while I was out there, but I wasn't going to die. I wasn't going to fall and be crushed my the Zamboni. I was going to be fine.
Once I was actually on the ice, I noticed that more and more skaters were clumsy like me. The mystique that the rink held for me, the perfection that every skater seemed to possess was gone. I had to adjust and figure out how to do this thing or else I was either going to have to stand by the side and watch as an outsider or be trampled by those who were already there.
Surprisingly, I caught on quickly. That's not to say that I was without falls, bumps, or bruises. I fact, I fell more times than I can recall, but that is not what mattered. I had ovecome my fear and jitters and I had I great time. It was quite nerve-wracking and almost terrifying at times, but once I got a grip on myself and just tried it, I had a lot of fun. I'm not a great skater, and I may not return to the rink anytime soon, but the whole thing turned out better than I expected.
Sometimes its best to just implusively try something new. I enjoyed skating, and my initial fear and reluctancy made me wonder how many other things I have missed out on. Like a lot of people, my inhibitions and nerves often prevent me from new experiences. If anything, I learned from skating that being spontaneous and trying something new things may lead to a black and blue here or there, but it can also yield a rewarding experience that will stay with you for along time, longer than any bruise will linger.
Dan sat across the table from me. I watched as he devoured the plate of cashew chicken before him, gulping it down between mouthfuls of pork and fried rice and swallows of Sprite. He acted as though he hadn't eaten in days.
"What's the matter," he asked suddenly. I realized that he had caught me staring at him. I winced when I saw his eye again, nearly swollen shut with a revolting purple bruise. I couldn't get used to his black eye, not because of its appearance, but its constant reminder of why he had it; because of who he is.
"Nothing," I lied to him. "Nothing's the matter." I looked down at my plate and ran my fork through the worst egg foo yung I'd ever tasted. "I worry about you, you know."
"Don't. There's no reason to worry about me," he said. "I don't need your pity."
Poor Dan, I think. He's so strong, always a survivor. It amazed me to see him remain so solid through everything that was thrown at him. I admired his strength, but I can't help wonder if it was just a mask; underneath, I'm sure that he just wanted to cry on someone's shoulder.
I still ask myself the same questions: What did he do to deserve the way he's been treated? What caused the fight that gave him that horrendous black eye?
Dan's a good friend of mine. He's a senior now, at a school not far from here. He'll graduate in June at the top of his class, with high hopes for college and the world beyond. He's a basketball player, a hockey fan, and the vice president of his class. He likes to watch TV, hang out with friends, and go to parties.
Dan is a regular guy, normal in every way, no different from you or me, really. But now he has a purple bruise over his left eye, which he got because he happens to be gay. Three little letters, one little word, and his whole life was turned upside down.
The sad fact is that Dan's story could have taken place in almost any high school in America. Young men and women -- be they straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender -- are subjected to homophobia each and everyday. Some, like Dan, are thrust out from the safety of their closet for all the unaccepting world to see. Others come out by their own decision, facing equally harsh reactions. Still others are harrassed and assaulted simply because they are perceived to be something other than heterosexual.
Think about it: when was the last time you heard the word "nigger" used by a student who got away with it? When was the last time you saw someone harassed because of their religion, race or gender within our school's walls?
Now think back: when was the last time you heard the word "faggot?" Five minutes ago? Ten?
You may think that the words "nigger" and "faggot" should not be compared because they are too different. You're right. They are different, but not in their meaning. They both hurt just as much. They both are forms of harassment and discrimination that is illegal here in the state of Vermont. The difference is the word "nigger" is a cardinal offense while the word "faggot" is permitted by the society within the halls of Rutland High School. Homophobia and "gay-bashing" are consistently ignored and allowed.
This homophobia remains a silent problem because so many are afraid to complain. Students are too frightened to say anything and many faculty members simply close their eyes to it. Most gay students do not speak out against the harassment because they fear the abuse will only worsen. Many gay rights proponents are also afraid to say anything because they know they will be assumed to be gay themselves. Those who have had the guts to stand up or seek help have, for the most part. been ignored.
I, for one, am sick of being afraid of what others will think. I am going to stand up for myself, my friends and my beliefs. This is a serious injustice that occurs at Rutland High School, one that we have to work to end. All of us have a legal and moral obligation to make our school a healthy, non-discriminatory place for everyone, regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.
To the students of Rutland High School, I ask you to think about the words you use and what they mean. To the faculty, I ask you to open your mind instead of just closing your eyes.
Gastonia--city of redneck farmhands with limited vocabularies, wads of chewing tobacco and Dale Earnhardt t-shirts cruising down Franklin in lowriders?
Undeniably, Gastonia is viewed differently by different people. However, a large number of both Gastonia residents and ``them that aint' from `round here" see the town as farm community populated by pick-up trucks with shotguns on the dashboard and rebel flags in the windows. On the other hand, others see it as an emerging suburb of Charlotte--one with smalltown charm yet lacking all big city headaches.
In the image-obsessed '90's, many would say that projecting just the right image is important. Tennis star Andre Agassi sums up this '90's attitude best in his famous Canon camera ads when he says ``Image is everything.''
But if image is so important nowadays, why is that Gastonia seems to be so often plagued with such a bad one?
``The majority of people inside and outside the city think that it is a hick town,'' said math teacher Tripp Griffin. ``As long as people think that, Gastonia will be a hick town. Perception is reality.''
Many Charlotte residents such as bank officer Tim Brice especially seem to have a distinct image when Gastonia comes to mind.
``I think of Gastonia as a redneck suburb of Charlotte,'' he said. ``Every time I've driven through it, nearly all I've seen are rednecks.''
So how did Gastonia come to be so labeled? Years ago when Gastonia was primarily a mill village, it was considered by many to be the home of uneducated, blue-collar workers. The town harbored mills such Parkdale and Firestone that employed a large percentage of the population.
``When textile were the predominant industry in this area, many from the mountains of western North Carolina came to Gatonia for mill jobs. This brought a lot of mountaineers that were uneducated,'' said former mayor of Gastonia M.E. Woody Jr. who also grew up in the Gaston area.
Woody claims that incidents such as when textile unions tried to unionize mill workers in Gastonia in the late 1920's were responsible for much of the town's negative imagery.
``The unionization of the workers led to very violent strikes and protests that resulted in the deaths of the chief of police and several strikers,'' he said. ``These events gave Gastonia national exposure and contributed to the stereotype that may had about this city.''
But this high-tech age, the face of the mill has changed, and according to Parkdale Mills CEO Duke Kimbrell, so have the employee.
``The progress in the textile industry has been great. The industry has spent tow-and-a-half billion dollars for 12 years to automate and computerize the industry,'' he said. ``The differences in the last ten years alone are huge.''
With the mill industry having gone ``high-tech,'' Gastonia can no longer blame textiles for its back-country reputation. It now may have to do with other factors.
Of this state's 100 counties, Gaston County ranks 99th in literacy. The county also has the highest number of adults with education levels below both high school and ninth grade levels.
Many believe the high number of illiterate people in Gastonia has done much to further the town's stereotype of being uneducated and ``redneck.''
``The high illiteracy rate was a contributing factor to the stereotype that outsiders had about our city, but we have made strides to correct the problem,'' said Grier Middle School guidance counselor Debbie Rhyne.
One of the ways that city officials have taken action is by starting the Literacy Council. The Literacy Council has fought hard to combat the problem according to Executive Director of the Literacy Council Katy Jefferson.
``The Literacy Council helps to train volunteers to work one-on-one with adults who need to learn basic skills like reading and writing,'' she said. ``Our goal is to build a literate community that will dispell the perception of many that GAstonia is a city of uneducated adults.''
At the same time, many claim the crime rate here has also hindered Gastonia's image. In the mid-1970's, the Gaston area had the highest murder rate per capita in the nation, and this has proven to be an image that the city has had a hard time trying to shake. But while such numbers have been difficult to live with over the years, they haven't completely disappeared yet either.
As a matter of fact, Gastonia Police Department statistics in 1996 show that residents of the city still have a one-in-ten chance of being a crim victim, the same odds as residents in Charlotte.
``Being next to the largest city in the state and being an urban area next to a large interstate highway naturally causes Gastonia to have a higher-than-normal crime rate,'' said Public Information Specialist Donna Lasher of the Police Department.''
The high crime rate has also led many to perceive the city as a somewhat unsophisticated and uneducated area.
``When people think of Gastonia, they automatically think of rednecks that cause trouble,'' said Ashbrook Sophomore Neal McSwain.
Turning on local news broadcasts doesn't halp to untarnish Gastonia's stained image either according to many who claim the city is constantly dogged and made to look stupid.
``Anytime the media covers Gastonia, it's usually about a crime,'' said senior Amanda Johnson. ``They always interview the stereotypical Gastonia resident--a hardcore redneck with a heavy southern accent and bad grammar.
While Gastonia's image may concern many residents, some aren't worried at all about it. Guidance counselor Janice Daniel has taught at schools like Charlotte's Providence High School and thinks Gastonia citizens shouldn't obsess too much about outsiders' perceptions.
``What other people assume about you or your city is their problem, not yours. Let them think what they want,'' she said. ``Even if their assumptions are correct, it's important to be who you are.''
As a matter of fact, she and others feel that Gastonia has a lot of positives claiming that most of the problem areas are being corrected as the city continues to grow. Chemistry teacher Brad Royal thinks whether Gastonia is a hick town or not, the residents should be proud of themselves.
``A lot of people may say I'm a redneck because I drive a pickup truck, watch NASCAR and listen to country, but I don't feel like those things make me or anyone else from Gastonia a redneck,'' said Royal. ``If it does, then I'm proud to be a redneck.''
In the 1960's and '70's, it was LSD and marijuana. By the 80's, the drug of choice was cocaine, while the early '90's signified the return of marijuana. Now, as the '90's come to a close, America is faced with a variety of new means of obtaining highs(or lows), and among these is snorting bars.
``Bars'' refers to 20 milligram tablets of either Valium or Xanax that look like little totem poles. Both of these are prescription anti-anxiety drugs that are considered downers, unlike cocaine which is an upper. Users crush these bars into powder and then snort them.
While awareness about the harmful side effects of this dangerous habit increases, so do the number of its users. According to one Ashbrook user (we'll call him Mark). its use has spread across Gaston County, having already infected all the high schools and even beginning to make its way into some of the junior highs.
``Adults think that bars are only in the high schools, but I have known just as many junior high users as high school users,'' Mark said.
``It's a dangerous habit,'' he said. ``You don't even realize how bad it is until you quit and look back. You have no idea what you had been doing all that time you were on bars. It is a total waste.
Area doctors echo these warnings claiming most users are unaware of the various side effects. Dr. Russel Cox claims snorting itself damages the nasal passages by causing several things to happen.
First, these drugs can cut off the flow of blood to the septum, which is the cartilage that separates the nostrils, causing a hole to form. This leads to constant nosebleeds and is not easily fixed. Snorting can also lead to a loss of a sense of smell and chronic irritation that can cause infection in the lining of the nose.
Cox also explained that bars can cause problems outside of the nose. It can affect blood pressure and blood supply to the brain, improving ones chances of having a stroke. He added that bars like other illegal drugs, also cause clouding of judgment and carry the added risk of a potential drug overdose.
``A user may find himself in situation while under the influence of drugs that can harm him and others because his judgment has been affected,'' he said.
Besides the physical damage snorting can cause, there is also a possibility of psychological damage according to local psychiatrist Dr. Vic Shuckla. He believes that any time a person takes drugs without the supervision of a physician, problems may arise.
``Drugs are an artificial means of feeling euphoric'' he said. Consuming them can lead to serious complications such as addiction, and once the brain gets addicted, the person can not function without it.
The ``euphoric'' effects Shukla speaks of usually set in within ten minutes, producing a high unlike any other that lasts all night and the next morning, according to Mark.
``It's a really cool feeling, different than the high from any other drugs,'' he said. ``You feel totally out of control and can't remember anything the next day.''
Mark said that the feeling is so addictive that people would rather take it themselves than sell it.
Bars are very hard to get sometimes because when someone come in contact with it, they prefer to use it instead of selling it,'' he said.
Because of the popularity of the drug and the difficulty in obtaining prescription drugs regularly, the availability of bars is limited.
``Anyone can get them, but sometimes they are really hard to find,'' said Mark. ``You can go weeks or even months without it and then have it three weeks in a row. When you get it, though, you're happy for that time. It's an accomplishment in a drug sense.''
Mark says users get these prescription drugs through a number of sources. Some get them through friends and parents with prescriptions while others get them from pharmacy employees who illegally sell them.
Some might wonder why teens choose to snort bars in the first place considering their cost ($5 to $6 a bar) and the fact that it poses a health risk.
Mark feels Gaston teens participate in this form of a drug use mainly out of boredom.
``There is nothing to do around here and no places to go, so we get together and just have fun,'' he said. ``For us snorting bars is fun.''
Shukla believes teens snort bars because of a combination of factors that include peer pressure and boredom. He also sees another reason for the popularity of snorting drugs such as Xanax and Valium.
``During the teenage years, children want to prove their independence. Teens show how much control they have over their lives by doing things their parents disapprove of like taking these drugs,'' he said. ``The ironic thing is that in actuality, teens are only losing control when they do drugs.''
Though bars are popular now, Mark feels their popularity will not last forever.
``Like other fads, this will pass. People will tire of it and move on to something else.''
Still, the number of those choosing to snort bars is increasing daily. Dr. Cox feels that knowledge is the best deterrent to doing this or any other drug. He offers this advice for those who need help.< ``If you're snorting bars, quit, and get into a treatment program to rid yourself of its craving and dependency,'' he said, ``but it's a long, slow recovery.''
A recent survey of over 250 Churchill English students indicated some forms of drug abuse are more concentrated at Churchill than in Maryland as a whole.
Of the Churchill seniors surveyed, 33.1 percent indicated that they had used marijuana within the past 30 days and 60 percent said they had used alcohol. Slightly fewer than 3 percent reported using LSD. In addition, 3.8 percent of the sampled students indicated they had used cocaine within the 30 days prior to the survey. More than 46 percent reported that, within the past year, they attended at least one party where inhalants were used.
By contrast, the 1996 Maryland Adolescent Survey reported that within the 30 days prior to the survey, only 25 percent of Maryland's high school seniors had used marijuana, slightly less than 6 percent had used LSD and about 50 percent had consumed alcohol. The state-wide study was based on a sample of 26,000 students throughout Maryland. Results for Montgomery County were similar to the state's results.
The Churchill survey also suggested that substance abuse increases sharply with grade level in school. Less than 15 percent of the freshmen surveyed reported using alcohol within the past 30 days, as compared to nearly 60 percent of the seniors. Similarly, fewer than 4 percent of the freshmen reported using marijuana. This percentage rose to 19.3 percent among sophomores, 22.5 among juniors and 33.1 among seniors.
Assistant Principal Mike Zarchin said administrators are aware of the Churchill drug problem and are taking strong measures, including the expulsion of drug abusers, to curb drug use at the school.
``[Drug abuse] is the most pernicious and destructive force in society today,'' Zarchin said.
School nurse Linda Vann said students with a substance abuse problem should take advantage of the Churchill Assistance Program. This program attempts to identify students with problems and refer them to the appropriate county agencies for help.
``I want to make it clear that there is help for students who use drugs,'' Vann said.
One junior said the survey's results do not surprise him at all.
``I see kids getting high in their cars before school,'' he said. ``The teachers don't realize that the students are high. They think the students are tired.''
The survey results also indicate that there seem to be two distinct clusters of drug abusers in Churchill. One group of drug abusers primarily uses alcohol and marijuana. A second and much smaller group tends to abuse ``harder'' drugs including cocaine and LSD. Statistical analysis of the survey data indicates a correlation of .54 between marijuana use and alcohol use, suggesting a strong relationship between the two drugs. Neither marijuana nor alcohol use was correlated with the abuse of LSD or cocaine. At the same time, however, there was a correlation of .60 between cocaine and LSD use.
Another junior said the survey results confirm his own experiences at Churchill.
``Pot is really common among Churchill kids. I used it at a concert,'' he said. ``But not many kids do hard drugs like LSD.''
One senior said, however, that these ``hard'' drugs are becoming more widespread than many people realize.
``Coke has definitely creeped more and more into the mainstream,'' he said.
This same student addressed the ease with which a Churchill student can obtain drugs, as well as the variety of drugs that exists.
``Finding drugs at Churchill is no challenge. You can buy bud [marijuana] anywhere,'' he said. ``And if you need to find shrooms [hallucinogenic mushrooms], tabs [LSD] or coke [cocaine], it's no problem.''
The Churchill survey also revealed that students who use marijuana and alcohol are more likely to find themselves in situations where other drugs are also being abused. For example, among those who reported using marijuana or alcohol, nearly 70 percent said they had also attended a party where inhalants were used, more than 10 percent said they had observed the abuse of cocaine, and nearly 20 percent said they had observed other students using LSD within the past 30 days.
Similarly, the survey indicated that students who did not use drugs were less likely to respond that they had witnessed drug use. Among students who said they did not use alcohol, for example, none had witnessed other students using cocaine. These results suggest that the abuse of any drug, including alcohol, tends to put students into social situations where other drugs are also being used. Students using ``soft'' drugs would appear to have at least a greater opportunity to use ``hard'' drugs than those who use no drugs at all.
Another senior said Churchill's drug abuse woes are not limited to one specific group of students.
``I know a lot of people that come to school high all the time; there are a lot of good kids and good students who smoke pot every day after school,'' he said. ``People would be surprised.''
Parking permits for the senior and carpool lots are commonly bought and sold for $100 or more, according to an Observer investigation of student parking practices at Churchill.
Interviews with numerous students revealed the existence of an informal parking space allocation system that bears little resemblance to the process outlined by school policy. The outright sale of parking space is commonplace. ``A lot of people sell their spots,'' senior Danny Hsia said.
According to the Churchill Parent and Student Handbook, there are three ways for junior and senior students to obtain parking permits. Students can receive ``special'' parking permits for the carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lot, if they are handicapped or if they participate in an off-campus educational program requiring them to return to school before the end of the school day. These students typically occupy five of the lot's 75 parking spaces. Students may obtain permits for the remaining spaces by forming carpools of a least three licensed drivers.
The 95 spaces in the senior lot are awarded to seniors through a parking lottery conducted each semester. Those who fail to receive spots during the first semester are given an increased chance the second term. Once awarded, parking permits may not be transferred.
The current rules were developed by Principal Joseph Headman and the school parking committee, said Business Manager Helen McGrath. The parking committee consists of Headman and McGrath, as well as a parent, a teacher and two students. ``The rules [established by the parking committee] are as fair as they can be,'' McGrath said.
Not all students, however, follow the committee's rules. Some students without access to cars and other students who live within walking distance of the school obtain parking spaces just to sell them at a profit. ``When students live really near the school and manage to get a parking space in the lottery, they sell it to another student,'' Hsia said.
McGrath said the school administration sometimes hears of students selling parking permits. ``We contact the security officer and both the buyer and seller lose their parking privileges,'' she said.
``Sellers would also have to give buyers back their money,'' Assistant Principal Michael Zarchin said.
Security guards Terry Bell and Frank Samsock both said they did not know any students caught for selling parking permits. Samsock, however, said they had apprehended students trying to forge permits. ``Students caught violating parking rules could receive detention and lose their parking privileges for a first offense and be suspended from school for any subsequent offenses,'' he said.
In addition to buying and selling spaces in the senior lot, students also commonly obtain carpool spaces under false pretenses. ``People are constantly trying to get licenses from other people for [carpool] permits even if they have no plans to actually drive together,'' senior Jason Yang said. ``Sometimes they borrow licenses from their friends or actually pay people for the use of their licenses.''
One senior interviewed for this article admitted she had obtained a carpool spot by convincing two of her friends to falsely affirm that they were riding to school with her. ``I actually would be willing to drive them to school, but they live too close to need rides,'' she said.
Another senior said he also lied to obtain a carpool permit. ``I borrowed my friends' licenses to get an HOV spot,'' he said. ``Everyone does it.''
Another senior said he failed in his efforts to buy a carpool license. ``I offered a kid $25 to let me use his license, but he said he could get $60 for it.''
One sophomore said she obtained a street permit by way of a cash transaction. ``I paid someone $35 for a permit to park on Gainsborough or Tuckerman,'' she said.
The threat of punishment, however, does not seem to be sufficient to halt the sale of parking privileges. Another sophomore said he would continue to try to purchase a parking permit from another student, despite the risk of punishment. ``I will get a good space no matter what the administration does. People will always find a way to avoid trouble and get what they want,'' he said.
Sophomore Justin Schuck said the current permit system actually encourages fraud because it does not take adequate account of student parking needs. ``Churchill gives spaces to students who don't need them, while students who need spaces for school activities or jobs sometimes can't get spaces,'' he said. ``When you give spaces to students who don't need them, but don't give spaces to students who really [do], the result will be that parking spaces will be bought and sold.''
As the varsity football locker room clears after practice, senior Eric Parks see his helmet next to the three index cards taped to the back of his locker. The first card reads, "first team All-State kicker and punter", and, "All-American selection." The second card read, "straight As" and "be a respected member by classmates."
The last card, filled with scriptures from the Bible, seems to stand out from the rest in his mind, it reads: "I can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives me strength." Philippines 4:13
It is these scriptures and goals that guide Parks and allow his faith to carry over into all aspects of his life.
Ranked as the second best kicker in the state a coaches pole, Parks has received over 100 recruiting letters before his senior year. He now receives two to three letters a day from top programs at universities such as Nebraska, Illinois, and Iowa State. Through all his achievements, Parks has always looked back to the Lord for spiritual guidance.
"Without the Lord's help, it is hard to do anything," Parks said. "I want to be the best and God will let me do that."
It was at the end of his sophomore football season at Trinity Christian Academy, a small parochial school, when Parks looked for God's direction. He woke up in the middle of the night, after dreaming he was in Lake Highlands stadium. After finding out that Lake Highlands wasn't in the school zone he lived in, Parks ended up at Hillcrest.
"It was in God's hands," Parks said. "When HE acts it is irreversible. This is where I am supposed to be."
Last season, Parks proved that this was where he belonged. He went 33-33 in extra point attempts, and nailed eight of 10 field goals, including a 47-yard kick. Already this season he has made kicks from 49 and 50 yards. Parks has had four punts over 50 and blasted a 66-yard punt against Highland Park.
Coach Monty sees more natural talent in Parks, than in current Baltimore Raven's kicker Matt Stover, whom he coached at Lake Highlands High School.
"Eric has a great work ethic," varsity football head coach Garry Monty said. "But he doesn't have to work as hard because of his natural ability. He's the best I've ever seen."
Though blessed with an ability, Parks doesn't take his talents for granted. He has attended camps at the University of Texas and SMU, local camps and clinics held by high school coaches, and a strength and conditioning camp to build his endurance and kicking distance.
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you are"
His faith and positive mental attitude has carried Parks through the adversity and pain he has faced. He suffered from a torn medial collateral ligament during his sophomore year and a broken collarbone during his junior year, but has constantly kept his faith in the Lord.
"He lets things happen to me," Parks said. "He molds me through my tribulations. It will only make me better and stronger."
His experiences and actions are what he uses to lead his teammates. Before every game, while still in the locker room, Parks, goes around to key players and says a sentence of motivation preparing them for the game.
"He is consistent," senior Courtney Mack said. "He comes in with the same attitude and is disciplined to make himself better. This carries over on other players."
"Do on to others as they would do on to you"
Park's religious devotion, as well as his leadership, carry through. Wednesday mornings before school, Parks interlocks hands with other classmates. He now leads See you at the Pole, a religious service for all faiths, trying to share his experiences with others.
During lunch, he passes out flyers encouraging all students to attend Hillcrest Younglife, a religious function he is the vice president of. Parks tries to lead others in hopes of showing people how Christ had affectedhis life. He participates in these activities simply because he feels it is God's will.
"I would rather be a leader than a follower," Parks said. I have to set an example everywhere, not just on the field. I represent God, and this is what he wants me to do. When people remember me, I want them to see the whole me, not just a kicker."
Instant Success Stories
Use of natural strength and energy boosters risingin popularity, but effectiveness and side effects questioned
Brendan Fitzgibbons, sophomore, Hillcrest High School, Dallas, Tx.
It's another day of summer workouts, and sophomore running back Austin Smith opens the pickle jar-sized creatine container as he sets out for the weight room. He scoops a spoonful of the white powder into a glass of water, stirs and gulps down the milky mixture.
"I don't get enough creatine in my body, and when I lift, I use all of it," Smith said. "I need more to help me life more. It helps me gain muscle mass."
After losing eight pounds from sprints and conditioning, Smith was looking to gain back his muscle and his confidence. He gained 20 pounds creatine supplements and weight lifting during the two months he used it. An extra glass of creatine pumped more natural energy into his body increasing his stamina and strength during workouts.
Downing a couple of capsules or a powdery shake is a popular solution for a natural calorie or energy boost, registered dietian Donna Isreal said. MET-Rx, ginseng and creatine supplements, additions to the body's natural creatine supply, are used by almost half the students who responded to an Aug. 26 Hurricane survey. But in their quest for instant success, Ms. Israel worries that the muscle-bound teen don't research the quick cures to their weaknesses.
Ginseng has been a cure-all in Asia for thousands of years, but its use as a vitamin and stress preventative in America is questionable. In Honest Herbal, an evaluation by Varro Tyler, ginseng is rated as being completely safe but its effectiveness is unknown. Its only known side effects are insomnia, diarrhea and skin breakouts.
Junior wide receiver Jamaric Davis takes two ginseng pills before every game and some practices to give him extra energy late in the game and when he runs gasses after practice.
"It's good for you," Davis said. "It gives me the strength I need in the fourth quarter. It's an advantage; the other team isn't as hyped as me, and I'm not as tired as they are."
All known side effects of these products are positive, but their effectiveness and long term results are still in question by nutritionist, consumers and coaches. Varsity football head coach Garry Monty isn't sure whether the products are completely effective. He hasn't recommended to any athletes because he doesn't know much about them, but he doesn't mind his players using them.
"I know that it can put you in better shape and give you a better body workout," Coach Monty said. But you have to be working out while you use it. I'm sure it has worked for some people but not many coaches talk about it."
Former coach and Spanish teacher C.J. Cavazos has gathered most of his enthusiasm and belief in creatine from enthusiastic coaches whose players have benefited from the product. He preaches the benefits of creatine at sports clinics including one for football at Texas Tech last summer. He also distributes C-Power, a form of creatine, to high schools all over the country including Dallas' Carter High School, where he was the track coach last year. When natural athletes start competing, they find out that they need to work harder to win. Creatine allows them to do this with the addition of added muscle. For this reason the sports programs at Norte Dame, Texas A&M, University of Colorado and others are putting their top athletes on this product, Mr. Cavazos said. "with creatine, you actually see your body getting bigger," Mr. Cavazos said. It's not a psychological thing. It's a proven thing."
Research on creatine supplements has been positive, though in conclusive in many areas. No one knows the correct dosage since natural creatine levels vary depending on the individual. And though weight gain is a side effect, the Penn State Sports Medicine News Letter questions whether this is muscle or just water. However, the same newsletter reports some definite conclusions. Creatine has been proven to enhance power and strength in short term intense activity.
"It [creatine]makes me feel bigger and stronger," junior linebacker Matthew Mousa said. "I feel like I can pick up anything. I just want to go out and hit somebody."
But without drinking six to eight glasses of water and daily and regular exercise, extra creatine does nothing for your body, nutrition and fitness specialist Jennifer Neily said. Junior Josh Ring took creatine for a month and a half but didn't see any visible results. Though he gained 14 pounds of lean body mass using a weight gainer, he didn't workout enough while using creatine. If the extra calories aren't burned, they're just stored as fat or the body excretes them, Ms. Nelly said.
Senior Polo Cruz wanted the extra calories. Because a majority of his diet has made up of hamburgers and french fries, his former tennis coach suggested he start taking MET-Rx, a meal supplement. Like a bitter Carnation Instant Breakfast with vitamins and protein, MET-Rx provided Cruz with extra energy and allowed him to workout longer without the muscle soreness.
"It tastes awful, like powdered milk," Cruz said. "And nothing take the taste away. But I was working out at least five hours a day, and I woke up feeling super sore. I wake up after using this stuff, and I don't feel a thing."
Energy and strength should come from a balanced diet Ms. Neily said. The person should look at designing a meal plan with 20 percent proteins, 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates and less than 30 percent fats. "If an athlete truly wants to be an athlete, they have to consider food consumption," Ms. Neily said. "They can't expect to eat fast food, take a pill and expect to be an awesome performer."
But the bronze abs of the body builder pasted on bottles on Ripped Fuel, a form of weight gainer sold at General Nutrition Center, are used to distract buyers from this fact. These high-calorie, high-protein meal supplements and before-and-after workout drinks entice buyers with buff bodies and catchy names. On the package of an 1850-calories per serving weight gainer is a smiling blonde-haried hunk grinning as his glowing sixpack. Inside the GNC refrigerator are the power fuels - 20 ounce bottles of Blue Thunder and Inferno power activators. They're nothing more than a capsule of Ripped Fuel or creatine mixed with fruit punch, GNC's Mike Pelatorre said, but the blue and red bottles covered with metallic labels easily get $3 from a curious customer.
RESEARCHING THE PRODUCTS
In their quest to get a quick energy boost or bulk up, people tend to neglect researching these products and their effectiveness or safety. Ms. Israel said. Instead, these users become the product's guinea pig.
"There's a real emphasis on body image in this country, but not body health," Ms. Israel said. "There's a big difference."
It's important to look for new studies coming out about these products, Ms. Israel said, especially since nutrition is such a young field and little research has been done. Creatine supplements came out in capsule and powder form just three years ago. This and other natural products sold in nutrition centers also go unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration because they are not considered foods or drugs. For this reason, researching beyond the success stories told in pamphlets or in packing is necessary, Ms. Israel said.
"If the only person [users] asked is the person who makes the product, guess what they're going to find out?" Ms. Israel said. "Now sometimes they [the product's manufacturers] are true believers. But sometimes they're so biased in their look that they can't share the problems and side effects."