One of the longest running anti drug programs on the coast hosted a graduation party Friday.
Some 16 hundred fifth graders from Gulfport and Harrison County schools participated in the "DARE" program this year.
The "graduates" gathered at the Harrison County Farm to celebrate.
A tug-of-war competition is the only stress pulling on these fifth graders now, but the DARE program has taught them how to handle more serious pressures. They know how to say "no" to things like drugs and violence.
Windy Swetman is a DARE instructor.
"Today is the day to celebrate being drug free. We've got approximately 16 hundred fifth graders from those two districts out here at the county farm. We have all kinds of displays, exhibits, games and food. Just a lot of fun, and again we're celebrating being drug free."
The focus is on fun. But these youngsters say they're better prepared to face future peer pressure and decisions about drugs and violence.
Dorthea is a 5th grader at Anniston Elementary in Gulfport. She's convinced the program is a good one for kids her age.
"Because it helps me not to do drugs and violence and drink when I grow older."
Woolmarket 5th grader, Ashley Becker, says a few adults could take a lesson from DARE.
"I think everyone that smokes or drinks now should just quit. And that'll make them a better person."
The positive message of the DARE program requires constant positive reinforcement. That's where role models come in. And that's exactly the kind of thing that attracted the Mississippi Fire Dogs to the event.
Terrell Sutton says a strong family helped steer him away from trouble as a youngster. Sutton and his teammates don't mind doing what they can in that regard.
"I feel like if there's no role models out there, somebody has to be a role model. Somebody has to step to the forefront and do that. And I feel with us being in the spotlight, we can do that. And these kids look up to us? Why not be a role model," said the Fire Dog star.
Such adult concern could help the kids make decisions to be winners in life.