‘Pit Stop for Safety'

By Johnny Jackson

Luella Middle School students noisily battered stands around the Luella High School football field Thursday with cheers and chants at an assembly presented by Sprint Nextel called “Sprint's Pit Stop For Safety.”

During the assembly, the NASCAR Foundation donated safety equipment and a check for $2,500 to the middle school. And students heard guests speak about personal awareness and safety.

Originally slated to be on program, NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler was unable to attend the assembly. His absence, though, did not dampen the students' spirits. They, instead, heard from FOX broadcaster and former NASCAR crew chief Larry McReynolds.

Bob Gio, the business director for Sprint Nextel, introduced McReynolds as the keynote speaker.

“I have it on good authority that the White Sox weren't the only ones to win a trophy last night,” Gio said to the receptive crowd before returning to his introduction. The night before, as the Chicago White Sox declared themselves World Series Champions, the middle school celebrated a Henry County Championship in football.

McReynolds talked about driving safety in which he urged the middle school students to start learning about defensive driving early. He said he currently has his 14-year-old son preparing to become a responsible driver.

“There are so many distractions,” he said, noting his parental spiel to the students. “But the bottom line is we do care. And I want to say it again and again, total focus and total concentration is the success of your driving. Always weigh out risk versus gain. I think if you'll do that, especially when you get behind the wheel of a car, you'll be all right.”

McReynolds continued with a story about his 16-year-old daughter who has a driver's license but has already been in a minor accident.

“I was thankful because, in a small way, that wreck was a wake up call to Brooke,” he said.

He later admitted he too was involved in a fender-bender when he first started driving.

“It made me gain respect early. It was definitely a wake up call to me. And it's something I preach to my two oldest (children) at home. So, I never even had to think twice about being here, because I am a parent.”

School counselor Ann Waiting said that Cindy Hogeland had a lot to do with getting the assembly to Luella Middle School. But Hogeland, the school's resource officer, passed the credit along to her superior, Major Keith McBrayer of the Henry County Sheriff's Office.

“Well, I just helped out,” Hogeland said. “I just helped because I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids; a lot of them have never even seen a race (up close).”

She said that McBrayer received an invitation from Sprint Nextel, sponsor of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, who wanted to find a school in Henry County to host the unique school assembly on safety.

McBrayer also spoke at the assembly about safety, particularly during Halloween activities.

“I think it's great,” he said afterward. “Any time you can talk to kids about safety and they have fun without realizing they're learning, that's what you want.”

Assistant principal Martin Wright pointed out avid fans of Sadler and NASCAR, 11-year-olds Ryan Lynch and Breanna Allen. Both sixth graders were able to ask McReynolds a question along with about eight other students who won an essay contest at the school about the importance of safety. Seventh grader Cody Spruill actually drew a picture of the Sadler's number-38 car trailer.

They all said they enjoyed the assembly and learned a lot about safe driving.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the students to get engaged and involved in the community,” Wright said.