D.A.R.E. graduates hear from Minnesota Viking

SLAYTON -- Minnesota Viking Matt Birk recently teamed up with Slayton Police Officer Tom Whitehead to take on tougher opponents than he will ever face on the football field -- drugs and alcohol.

SLAYTON -- Minnesota Viking Matt Birk recently teamed up with Slayton Police Officer Tom Whitehead to take on tougher opponents than he will ever face on the football field -- drugs and alcohol.

Birk was the guest speaker at the Murray County Central/Fulda D.A.R.E. graduation Friday night at the MCC Auditorium, a fact that Whitehead, who is the Murray County D.A.R.E. officer, was very excited about.

"I think it's great he's willing to come all the way out here for this," Whitehead said.

Birk said he had never been down in this area of the state, but was pleased to be able to speak at the graduation ceremony.

"D.A.R.E. is a great program," he said before the ceremony. "It was around when I was in school. It is all about making good decisions -- making smart decisions."


Birk said he was lucky enough to have good parents and a good family that kept him away from drugs and alcohol, and he wanted to encourage others to do the same.

"I want the kids to stick with the program and stay drug and alcohol free," he said.

Whitehead contacted Birk last year, but Birk couldn't attend because of a scheduling conflict. He agreed to speak the following year, a fact Whitehead kept quiet about until a few weeks before the graduation.

"I told the kids, and a week later one of the boys came up and asked if Matt Birk was really going to be here," Whitehead laughed.

"I get a lot of requests to speak," Birk said. "But when Tom requested I come down for this, I was all for it. Kids are something I like to focus on."

Birk, who graduated from Cretin-Derham High School in St. Paul, said that while drugs were not overly prevalent in his school, they were definitely there.

"You definitely knew about them," he said. "You were lectured on them a lot."

He was saddened to see some friends turn to drugs.


"When some of my real good friends from grade school chose that path, it was sad," he explained. "I talk to a lot of young people now, and the message is always the same."

Birk said even though he's 29 years old, he still acts like a big kid and remembers what it was like to be young.

"I remember what choices you need to make," he said.

During the graduation ceremony, Officer Whitehead said he had a fun year "hanging out with a bunch of really cool fifth-graders."

Several students got up to read their D.A.R.E. essays, which each student writes as a requirement to graduate from D.A.R.E.

"I discovered many great strategies on how to tell myself no," said Fulda student Ciara Bents. "I have learned a way to get through every difficult situation."

MCC student Morgan Beckmann said he learned a lot about peer pressure and pledged he would stay away from drugs.

"I learned drugs will kill you faster and I don't want to take that chance," said Jade Ternus of Fulda.


Max Whitehead of MCC said if someone was on the road driving drunk, he wouldn't want to be driving on the same road.

"And I learned once you are on meth there is no going back," he added.

During his speech, Birk told the fifth-grade students that at their age, drugs really become a reality and they were old enough now to know about right decisions and wrong decisions.

"You can't use that 'I didn't know' as an excuse," Birk said. "It is harder to say 'No, this is wrong.' It is a huge responsibility."

He told the students they could do whatever they wanted with their lives -- be whatever they wanted to be.

"But drugs shouldn't be part of your plan," he said. "Drugs and alcohol aren't going to help you get there."

During a recent class reunion Birk said people were encouraging him to have a beer or a drink.

"I was 28 years old and still getting peer pressure," he commented.


He knew alcohol would make him a worse football player, so he said he never drank.

"My goal was to be the best football player I could be," he said.

Birk told some stories of people he knows that fought or are fighting addictions to drugs and cigarettes.

"You have your whole entire lives in front of you," he said. "Don't let anyone tell you that just one drink, one cigarette won't hurt you."

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