CLEARWATER — Angelo Dundee's remarks might have been brief Thursday during the eighth annual Pinellas County Drug Court graduation ceremony at the Criminal Justice Center.
But they didn't lack punch.
"We," the legendary boxing trainer said, "have got to kick this thing."
The approximately 90 graduates, who were closely monitored and received court-supervised treatment during a two-year program, attended Drug Court in an attempt to get off drugs and turn their lives around.
That struggle is something with which Dundee is all too familiar.
Although the 87-year-old Oldsmar resident is best known for training Muhammad Ali, Carmen Basilio, George Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard, he has worked with more than a few athletes who suffered from drug addiction. Pinklon Thomas, a well-known heavyweight two decades ago, was one of them.
"He licked it and became a champion," Dundee said.
The ceremony's special guest, Dundee was joined in the overflow crowd by the likes of Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein, attorneys, judges and others who where there to show support for the graduates.
Dundee, whose son Jimmy is a friend of Drug Court Judge Dee Anna Farnell, was the star attraction before and after the ceremony, but all eyes were on Farnell during the hourlong session.
Speaking with emotion and energy, she thanked those who have assisted Drug Court and its participants and had words of encouragement for the graduates, who ranged in age (18 to 63), ethnicity and social status. Then, with a smile on her face, she handed each a certificate of completion.
Approximately 2,000 participants have completed the program since it began in 2001.
According to Pinellas courts public information officer Ron Stuart, Drug Court saved taxpayers more than $9.2 million during 2008 — an estimate based on the number of Drug Court clients who entered guilty pleas and received out-patient treatment instead of the minimum sentence of 180 days in jail.
"I've been doing this three years," Farnell said. "These are my people. This is phenomenal. There are so many success stories."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4156.