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Anti-drug message arrives in a helicopter at Sanders

(ran PAS edition)

Ryan Kozlowski, his red ribbon flapping in the cool breeze created by the sheriff's helicopter zipping overhead, got the message Tuesday:

"When somebody says "Hey, do you want drugs?' I say "No, I don't take drugs.' "

The 7-year-old second-grader was among more than 200 Sanders Memorial Elementary School students who gathered on the grassy commons Tuesday morning to begin Red Ribbon Week with a drug-free pledge.

Besides swearing never to let drugs ruin their lives, the children were treated to performances by Land O'Lakes High School cheerleaders and drummers from the high school marching band.

They also watched Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon and school superintendent John Long land in the shiny green sheriff's helicopter, which touched down on the basketball court.

"I can tell you, Land O'Lakes looks a lot different from up there than it does from down here," Long told the crowd. "I never knew we had so many lakes, and so many orange trees left."

Cannon, who started his own education at Sanders, warned kids to steer clear of drugs.

"I never knew Land O'Lakes would be what it is today, and I never realized drugs would be such a problem. We didn't have drugs in Land O'Lakes or Pasco County when I was a kid," Cannon said. "Now, no matter what age you are, you are confronted by drugs. If you ever start down that road, it will ruin everything you want to be."

The sheriff then donated to the school two scales that had been confiscated during drug raids. The spoils of crime, Cannon reasoned, should be used for education.

Will Weatherford, captain of the high school football team, told the crowd he considers some things more important than sports.

"Stay out of trouble, listen to your parents, and don't do drugs," Weatherford said. "I've been drug free all my life. It's not that hard. It's not cool to do drugs. It's cool to stay away from drugs."

Seth Merrigan, 8, agreed. "You should say no to drugs because you won't be able to participate in school and it's against the law."

The morning's events culminated with children cheering and clapping as Sanders principal Marti Meacher took a ride in the sheriff's helicopter _ the first time Meacher ever boarded a helicopter.

Afterward, she laughed about the experience. "It was really cool. It wasn't scary at all."