Bus loads of students from seven bay area high schools converged on the Osceola High School football stadium Thursday to pledge not to drink or use drugs on prom night.
Known as "Prom Promise," the program _ sponsored by Nationwide Insurance, WTSP-Ch. 10, WXTB-FM (98 Rock) and bay area high schools _ asks juniors and seniors to sign pledge cards vowing to avoid drugs and alcohol during their homecoming proms and all-night festivities that follow.
"We hope to stem the rise in student deaths and injuries that have plagued many high schools over the years," said Osceola High School principal Rick Misenti.
"Osceola's motto is "A Quality Experience,' and we want this to extend to everything we're involved in."
Misenti said he knows of no high school participating in the Prom Promise program whose students have died driving while intoxicated.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Sam Wyche kicked off the morning pep rally. Nearly 700 students cheered as the coach told them that the point of the pledge is to eliminate drinking-and-driving deaths sometimes associated with high school festivities.
The coach recalled having to boot running back Stanley Wilson from the Cincinnati Bengals before the 1989 Super Bowl against San Francisco for using crack cocaine the night before the game. Wyche, then coach of the Bengals, saw his team lose in the game's final seconds to the passing arm of 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.
The students from Osceola, Seminole, Clearwater, Northeast, Pinellas Park and Dixie Hollins high schools, all in Pinellas County, and Gaither, in Hillsborough County, cheered as the coach told them not only to "make the promise, but to know the promise."
"I had to kick Stanley Wilson out of football. He just gave in, I guess, because of the pressure. Don't you give in."
At the end of the rally, hundreds of students crowded a table set up to sign cards pledging "not to use alcohol or drugs on prom night. I won't let these things mess up an important time for me and my friends."
"This program helps you to see the consequences of drinking and driving," Osceola High School senior Jason Herzog said after the presentation.
A weeklong educational program preceded the Prom Promise pep rally.
"But it all starts with the parents," added senior Pete Maroudis. "I'd like to see our parents more involved with this program. We could also make our pledge to them."
Principal Misenti said he expects 75 percent of his students to have signed the pledge cards by next week.
Across the country, 3,000 schools and 1.7-million students are expected to participate, according to organizers.