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The Southbridge Evening News
By Amanda Collins

Southbridge- As images of professional ball players flashed on a screen at the front of the Southbridge High School auditorium Thursday, Jan. 19, students called out the names of their favorite athletes.
Paul Pierce, Lebron James, Michael Jordan.

Then came a man clad in a Celtics hat and jersey, smiling out from a picture that read “coming soon” across the bottom. Yet not a single student in the room recognized him.

“The irony is that he never actually came at all,” Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis told the group of freshman and sophomores of Len Bias, a basketball star who died from a cocaine overdose in 1986 just two days after being signed by the Boston Celtics. “Here’s a guy who was going to be the greatest player of all time and no one’s even heard of him. And it’s all because he believed the myths about drugs.”

Evangelidis’ ‘Face2Face’ presentation at Southbridge High School last week was about debunking these myths. The school was a stop on a crusade he’s making across the county with his drug and alcohol prevention program, having recently spoken at nearly 20 area schools, including stops in Spencer and Leicester. He’ll bring the presentation to Oxford and Dudley-Charlton schools in the coming weeks.

“It’s a unique program, because, first of all, the sheriff is coming into the kids’ school. I think that hits them. I work with inmates and I can tell them their stories,” Evangelidis said.

The sheriff told the students that 85 to 90 percent of the inmates he works with at the Worcester County House of Correction “are addicted to drugs or alcohol” and that by sharing their stories, he hoped to prevent the teens from taking the same path. His presentation was a blend of the tales of everyday people and celebrities, all whose lives were destroyed by their poor choices.

“It doesn’t matter who you are – everyone tells the same story,” he said. “One bad choice leads to another.”

The sheriff said he wanted to bring a program to students that would make them “think twice,” and feels his blend of entertaining videos, stories of the infamous, and tales of troubled teens is enough to impact students even after they’ve left the assembly. His Face2Face presentation literally puts a face to the problem of drug abuse for the teens.

“For them to see the photographs of what happens to your face when you use drugs, I think that really gets to them. They are at an age where appearance means a lot,” he explained.

Indeed, students were dismayed by images of addicts who mugs shots looked progressively worse over years. They were appalled by pictures of “meth mouth,” nasal deformations, and facial distortions the sheriff said were all caused by drug use. But perhaps the most impacting was a computer-enhanced image of one of the students’ peers, showing what the teen would look like after years of drug abuse.

“The impact is real and it can happen to anybody,” Evangelidis said.

Southbridge High School guidance counselor Lindsey Charron, who organized the presentation, said the images were exactly what the students needed to see to realize the scope of their decisions. She explained that while the school holds similar programs for upperclassmen before prom every year, the sheriff’s program was brought in specifically for freshman and sophomores.

“It explains the dangers to them in a way that they understand and they are young enough that this will really make an impact,” she said.

Evangelidis presented the program recently to even younger students at Leicester and Sutton Middle Schools.

“It’s important to get them at these ages, to show them the damaging effects that drugs and alcohol will have on their appearance and their life,” he said.