Members of the Thomas Jefferson School music club sing the national anthem on the field Tuesday before the D.A.R.E. baseball game at Dozer Park in Peoria.
PEORIA — For decades, D.A.R.E. Day has been a fixture on the Peoria Chiefs’ schedule.
The traditional late morning/early afternoon game has long drawn thousands of area youngsters who have completed the week-long program that educates kids about the dangers of drugs.
While area school cutbacks have slashed the number of participants in half over the years, the 2,644 kids from 41 programs who attended Tuesday’s game at Dozer Park against Cedar Rapids didn’t lack for enthusiasm.
They danced and cheered and shrieked and jumped and ate and chased foul balls with a high energy not usually seen at the ballpark.
“Kids days are always fun,” said Chiefs manager Chris Swauger. “We had some (sunny) weather after some cold nights. Then to have a good atmosphere like that is fun.”
The exuberance was present despite crisp temperatures in the low 40s and a mostly rough day for the home team.
By the time most of the kids left the park for their buses in the eighth inning, the Chiefs trailed 8-3. Cedar Rapids would survive a ninth-inning rally by the Chiefs to win 8-6.
“It’s really cool to be here as a reward from doing the D.A.R.E. program,” said 11-year-old Julia Mingus, a fifth-grader at Bolin Elementary School in East Peoria. “I learned a lot. I learned how I can help stop somebody from doing drugs. It damages their bodies and can put them in the hospital.”
Addison Hutson and Avery Burgess, also Bolin fifth-graders, said they had already decided to avoid drugs before taking the program.
“It’s better not to start at all,” Burgess said. “I have family members who smoke and it’s the same thing. You shouldn’t start.”
Added Hutson: “I learned more about drugs and what they can do to you.”
Their teacher, Roxanne Sego, said the kids embraced the program.
“They were very excited to write their essays about it,” she said.
D.A.R.E. stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
The program began in California in 1983. About three-fourths of our nation’s school districts and 52 countries around the world have added D.A.R.E. into their curriculum.
D.A.R.E. is usually a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives.
The largest contingent Tuesday was a group of 720 from the Woodford County D.A.R.E. program. The Canton Police Department brought 225 kids and 220 showed from the Lincoln Police Department.
The 100-strong Thomas Jefferson (Primary School) Music Club sang the national anthem.
“It’s really cool seeing kids from all over who have learned about drugs and are supporting D.A.R.E.,” said Mingus.
And supporting the St. Louis Cardinals affiliate Chiefs. Even if they’re Cubs fans.
“I’m a Cubs fan, but the Chiefs are our hometown team,” said Burgess. “So we’re rooting for them.”
Another Cubs fan, 14-year-old Mason Nauman, saw another benefit to the D.A.R.E. program — a day off school.
“It’s cold, but it’s definitely worth it,” he said.
Photo: D.A.R.E. Officer and Vermilion County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Miller in his office at the Public Safety Building.
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