Shoes placed around track provide visual of yearly deaths from tobacco use
By Sarah Nagem
The goal was to put 1,200 pairs of shoes around the track of West Rowan High School on Friday ó one pair for everyone who dies each year in the United States from tobacco use.
The Junior ROTC cadets at West met their goal and then some. They placed more than 1,600 pairs of sneakers, sky-high heels, boots and sandals on the track during senior field day.
Tezia Barber, a 15-year-old freshman, helped put the project together. The JROTC program wants to discourage teens from using tobacco.
The issue hits close to home for Barber, whose grandfather died of lung cancer about eight years ago. He was a smoker.
“I know friends who do it,” Barber said. “I try to get them to stop.”
When it comes to making good decisions, teens are likely more willing to listen to peers than adults, said Natalie Gray, youth tobacco manager for the Rowan County Health Department. Gray helped with the shoe project at West.
“They’ll listen to youth better than me up there lecturing,” Gray said of students.
Junior cadets got about 750 pairs of shoes from students, teachers and family members at West. West Rowan Middle School donated about 60 pairs, and Freightliner gave about 50 pairs. The rest came from churches.
Ashley Null, a 15-year-old freshman and JROTC member, brought in about 100 pairs of shoes in four days. She and her family raided their closets, and Null also went around her community with a wagon collecting shoes from neighbors.
She brought in more shoes than any other junior cadet. For her efforts, Null won’t have to take the JROTC exam this year.
Null said she was pleased with how the project turned out.
“I think this is a really great way to send a message,” she said. “You can say ‘don’t smoke’ all you want, but unless you’re doing something about it, people aren’t going to listen.”
The shoes provided a visual for the suffering tobacco use causes, junior cadets said.
“I think it’s very symbolic,” said Brittany Himes, 18, a senior. “You see how many shoes there are, and you see how many people that is.”
Barber chimed in: “I don’t want to be one of those people.”
Neither does Null, who swears she won’t start using tobacco.
“I think it’s a waste of money, and it’s just another way to kill yourself, basically.”