Drug, media message given to athletes

WHEELING – A new campaign meant to educate student-athletes about the dangers of drugs and social media kicked off Thursday at Wheeling Island Stadium.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Craig Knight, Wheeling Park High School Athletic Director Dwaine Rogers, Wheeling Park football coach Chris Dougherty, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Vogrin and Ziegenfelder Chief Financial Officer Kevin Heller made the announcement before holding their first program for Wheeling Park’s football team. Heller’s company provided BudgetSaver Twin Pops during the event.

Dubbed ”Project Future Two-a-Days,” the talk included information about why even holding drugs for a friend can land a person in federal prison for up to 20 years; why ”sexting” can also become a federal crime; and how one’s actions today can impact their future because once it is posted on the Internet, it stays there.

”Two-a-Days” refers to football teams holding two practice sessions a day before their regular season starts.

”We’re going to give students an inside look into drugs and alcohol and social media. They can lead to very volatile situations, and the people of the Ohio Valley know this all too well,” Ihlenfeld said during a press conference on the field.

During the program held inside the team locker room, Ihlenfeld gave several examples of high school and college athletes who seemed to have everything going for them before getting mixed up with drugs and alcohol. Some of them went to jail, while others died because of their actions.

”If you are 18 or older, the potential for trouble ramps up. … Don’t hang around with someone who is involved with that stuff,” Ihlenfeld said.

For example, if a friend asks one to hold 20 Oxycontin pills for them, that is considered possession and punishable by up to 20 years in prison, he said. Vogrin said texting nude photos of minors also is a felony.

”Once you send a message, you have no control over where it ends up,” Vogrin said. ”Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.”

He added even if one has deleted a message or picture from one’s phone, it can be recovered.

”There are ways to find those messages – they leave a digital fingerprint,” Vogrin said.

Ihlenfeld said several other schools’ football teams and other fall sports teams will be visited this month and given the same presentation. Football teams will include Wheeling Central, John Marshall, Hundred, Brooke, Magnolia and Cameron. Fall sports teams will include Oak Glen, Weir and Paden City.

Ihlenfeld conceded the program was prompted not only by the increasing deaths among young people due to prescription painkiller and heroin use, but by the Steubenville case involving two high school football players who were convicted of raping a Weirton girl. In that case, text messages and texted photos played an integral role.

Ma’Lik Richmond was sentenced to at least a year in the state juvenile detention system. Trent Mays was sentenced to at least two years in juvenile detention. He also was convicted of using his phone to photograph the underage girl naked. The two were found guilty by Judge Thomas Lipps in March.

The case drew international attention because of the role of text messages and social media in exposing the attack and led to allegations of a cover-up to protect the Steubenville High School football team.

The girl, who had been drinking heavily, has no memory of the attack. One of the ways she learned that something had happened to her was by viewing parts of a 12-minute YouTube video filmed the night of the attack in which students made crude jokes about her.

On Monday, a grand jury that has been meeting in Steubenville is set to resume its investigation into whether more laws were broken in the girl’s rape. One of the key issues is whether adults who are required to report crimes knew early on of the rape last August but didn’t say anything.

”We’re not just targeting football players. It’s open to all athletes, but it made the most sense to start here. This is for males and females,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)