By Matthew Young, RealWV
“The strongest point of any house is a good foundation, and we feel like we’re building what’s going to be an absolutely beautiful home.”
That’s what Executive Director Joe Boczek said about the current state of West Virginia’s GameChanger program. Originally conceived in 2018 by Boczek, WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan, and MVP Bank Executive Vice-president Donald Robinson, GameChanger has blossomed into a fully realized “student-powered substance misuse prevention movement.”
“Our foundation is our K through 12 Prevention Education program – broken down into (grades) K to five, six to eight, and nine through 12,” Boczek noted. “And those were all designed in conjunction with the Hazelden Betty Ford Prevention Education Department.”
First announced by GameChanger Head Coach and W.Va. Governor Jim Justice during his 2021 “State of the State” address, the partnership with Hazelden Betty Ford has added considerable resources to the program.
“We are really pleased with the progress we’ve made so far,” Boczek said. “And we’ve had the help of so many people. Our educators, of course our governor – as head coach – has provided great leadership, and Sen. Manchin and Sen. Capito have been fabulous. Our new superintendent of schools (David Roach) and the state school board have been more than supportive, and Christina Mullins from the DHHR.”
“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had so many people buy into the program,” Boczek added. “We’re in 12 pilot schools now, and we’ll be adding more next fall, with the goal of being in all 681 public schools.”
Boczek also hopes to introduce the program into private schools, bringing the total to over 700 West Virginia schools by the start of the 2027/2028 school year.
“This is, without question, the backbone of GameChanger,” Boczek said. “It’s addressing prevention education. It sounds simple, but if a kid doesn’t try a drug they can’t become addicted. So we’ve got to teach the kids.”
GameChanger experienced what was arguably the program’s most impactful year in 2022. In August – on the heels of their successful second-annual “GameChanger Golf Classic” fundraising event at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs – GameChanger hired Greenbrier West High School alumni Kim Legg to fill the newly-created position of “Director of Prevention.” Just three weeks later, and in collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) educational foundation, GameChanger’s interactive “Drugs: Costs and Consequences” exhibit opened to the public at the West Virginia Culture Center in Charleston.
“We’ve gotten a fabulous response [to the exhibit],” Boczek noted. “We’ve had busloads and busloads of kids from all over the state come and visit it. We’ve had adults from the general public visit. It’s 5,000 square feet, and it’s an absolutely excellent tool in the prevention game. It’s another facet that GameChanger is providing to attack this problem.”
As of Dec. 31, the exhibit has been visited by nearly 15,000 West Virginia school children. “Drugs: Costs and Consequences” will be on display through Jan. 15. A virtual tour of the exhibit is available on GameChanger’s website.
GameChanger’s next initiative is the “One Pill Can Kill” educational-film, scheduled to be distributed to all West Virginia high schools and middle schools before the end of January.
“We’ve developed a ‘parent tool kit’ in conjunction with the DEA and the Discovery Channel,” Boczek said. “It addresses the fentanyl issue, it addresses opioid and substance misuse and vaping. We’re asking all the schools to send a link to the film to all parents, guardians and grandparents to be watched – again – with their children at home. The parent tool kit can then be used as a guide to continue to educate and work with their kids about the horrors of opioid and substance misuse and the fentanyl problem.”
The film, “One Pill Can Kill,” is the product of a longstanding partnership between GameChanger, and the Los Angeles-based FGPG Productions – the firm which produced GameChanger’s 2020 “Virtual Summit.” One Pill Can Kill – which was screened for state legislators, educators, and other concerned community members on Dec. 5 – has a run-time of 35 minutes, and is hosted by former West Virginia University (WVU) basketball standout Meg Bulger.
“We’ve had a great working relationship with them (FGPG),” Boczek added. “They believe in GameChanger so much that they gave $110,000 to be used for prevention education in our schools.”
The third-annual GameChanger Golf Classic, once again to be held at the Greenbrier Resort, is scheduled for May 24 and 25. While 2023’s keynote guests have yet to be announced, previous events have featured appearances by Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, Gov. Jim Justice, former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, and Grammy Award-winning musician Brad Paisley.