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‘Warriors Above the Influence’

featured on the 2020 – 2022 Pocahontas County High School Warriors Above the Influence poster are, from left: Emma Riffe, Savannah McMillion, Haley Spencer, Cheylin Woodruff, Ciera Wilfong, Alan Gibson and Benjamin Dunz. Not pictured: Autumn Lane. Photo courtesy of Aaron Pugh

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

In response to growing concerns about alcohol and drug use among young people in the county, the Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition, with Ginny Ramos at the helm, launched the Pocahontas County High School “Warriors Above the Influence” campaign in 2008

As part of that campaign, the PCPC, with the support of the community, produced the first “Warriors Above the Influence” poster featuring a small group of exemplary students.

The campaign’s positive message was immediately embraced by PCHS students and county residents alike, and the poster was so popular that an application process was designed for students who would be named as “Warriors Above the Influence.”

The National Warriors Above the Influence Campaign was originally a creation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, but the title couldn’t have been more appropriate for Pocahontas County, as our PCHS students have long been known as “The Warriors.”

The goal of the 13-year campaign has always been to encourage our local youth to be wary of negative influences and empower them to stand up to negative pressure that might cause them to make unhealthy decisions.

In addition to being above average students and excellent role models, this year’s students are part of the first Pocahontas County Youth Leadership Council. 

“We encourage all young people and teens to join the council and commit to staying above the influence of drugs and alcohol,” Prevention Coalition director Cheryl Jonese said.

The group recently celebrated National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week by creating public service announcements that were aired on Allegheny Mountain Radio and published in The Pocahontas Times.

PCYLC also sponsored an art event at Green Bank Middle School in which 10 middle school students learned about cyber safety and painted an inspirational phrase on canvas.

A similar event is being planned at Marlinton Middle and PCYLC hopes to be active with Energy Express this summer in Marlinton.

Students who have been on the Warriors Above the Influence posters are a fairly exclusive club.

Since 2008, there have only been 70 PCHS students who have had the honor of being on the posters.

“We are so proud of our our Warriors Above the Influence,” Jonese said.

“They have gone on to bright futures.

“Many have taken their place in the professional world as veterinarians, pharmacists, military pilots, lawyers and teachers.

“And many have enriched our community by remaining here in Pocahontas County – working, starting businesses and raising families,” she said.

“Being on the Above the Influence poster established these students as role models for youth in the county.

“I definitely think the campaign has improved students’ decision making and leadership skills,” she added.

Not just any student can be named a Warrior Above the Influence.

“These students must meet high standards,” Jonese stated.

“The application process is lengthy, which is one reason why we only do the poster every two years,” she added.

The students complete an application that lists their school and community involvement, and requires impeccable school, work and social media references – which are rigorously checked.

At every step of the process, a parent or guardian signs for permission for the student to participate.

After the application is reviewed and references verified, the students are selected for an interview.

And, of course, each applicant must pass a drug screen.

The interview committee usually consists of five people who present each applicant with a standard set of questions before the committee decides which eight to 12 students will appear on the poster.

The professional quality photography for the project is provided by Picket Fence Photography of Marlinton.

Each poster’s official unveiling is held at PCHS.

This is usually a popular school-wide event, but this year, with COVID precautions in mind, the ceremony was only attended by the students being honored, their parents and the poster’s sponsors – but was live streamed into classrooms.

Of course, the project couldn’t do without the sponsors, whose contributions make it possible. 

“We want to thank all of our sponsors for their support: the Board of Education for giving us permission to go forward this year – considering COVID-related challenges – and PCHS vice principal Kristy Tritapoe for her coordination of the entire process, which was even more complicated than usual,” Jonese said.

“It’s always been a group effort between the Prevention Coalition, the school and the community,” Jonese said.

“And it’s working.

“I definitely think the campaign has improved students’ decision making and leadership skills.”

And now, we introduce to you – Pocahontas County Warriors Above the Influence 2020-2022:

A senior at PCHS, Autumn Lane has played softball and been a member of the Warrior band for four years and has cheered for three.

After graduation, she is looking forward to attending West Virginia University to major in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics.

“The Warriors Above the Influence campaign is important because it brings awareness to the issues that drugs and alcohol can cause,” Lane said. “The campaign allows us to speak to the community about our goals and how staying drug and alcohol free helps us reach them.

“The overall message of the campaign is very positive.

“It encourages young people to stay focused on making a bright future for themselves,” she added.

Ben Dunz, a junior at PCHS, takes pride in maintaining good grades, plays baritone saxophone, and enjoys sports – golf, baseball, skiing, mountain biking and scuba diving.

Dunz is looking forward to attending college to study electrical or mechanical engineering. 

He’s a member of Boy Scout Troop #33, working toward the rank of Eagle Scout.

He is the first student to model skis on an Above the Influence poster.

“I’ve spent a lot of time skiing at Snowshoe Mountain since I was three years old,” Dunz said. 

“Being a part of Pocahontas Prevention Youth Leadership Council is an honor that I will strive to live up to as a teen in our county and throughout my entire life.”

Ciera Wilfong is proud to represent the Future Farmers of America on the new Above the Influence poster. She enjoys drawing and reading in her spare time.

She will attend West Virginia Wesleyan this fall, to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree and plans to become a registered nurse.

“With the Warriors Above the Influence campaign, we can show what it means to be above the influence, and educate people about the negative effects of drugs and alcohol,” Wilfong said.

Savannah McMillion, a senior, represents Lady Warriors soccer on the poster.

“Besides being a member of the Pocahontas County Leadership Council, I play soccer, am a member of the track and field team, the National Honors Society and the West Virginia Army National Guard,” she said.

“I also love to attend Mount Olivet United Metho-dist Church and help out with community events.

McMillion will be heading to the University of Charle-ston this fall, to study Biomedical Sciences in the Physician Assistant program.

“Having the opportunity to take part in the poster campaign has meant a lot to me,” McMillion said. “I hope to set an example so others will choose to live above the influence and chase their dreams.”

Alan Gibson has participated in several sports and activities – football, soccer, band and track – during high school.

An Eagle Scout, Gibson is a member of Boy Scout Troop #33, the National Honor Society, Gay Straight Alliance, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and the Eight Rivers Math Club. He plans to attend West Virginia University and enlist in the Air Force National Guard.

“Growing up, I’ve seen the effects of drugs,” Gibson said. “I know that they can destroy the lives and relationships of those who use them. It’s always tragic to see.

“I’m proud to do what I can to help motivate the younger generation to stay away from drugs.”

Haley Noel Spencer, a sophomore at PCHS is active in soccer and basketball, and runs track in the spring.

She is vice president of her class and has been in the Buckeye Winners 4-H club for eight years.

In the summer she works as a lifeguard at Watoga State Park.

“Early involvement in RAZE (an anti-tobacco organization) and SADD (formerly Students Against Driving Drunk – and renamed Students Against Destructive Decisions) encouraged me to be a leader and make good choices,” Spencer said.

“I want to enter the medical field and distractions like drugs and alcohol would make that impossible.

“Being a role model on the poster is an accomplishment I am proud of. 

“I want the brightest future possible for myself and to positively impact others’ lives, too.” she added.

Emma Riffe, another member of the Youth Leadership Council, plays soccer in the fall and softball in the spring.

Riffe is active in 4-H and participates in “Young Life,” a faith-based club. 

She attends church regularly and enjoys snowboarding, hanging out with friends, camping and kayaking.

“After graduation, I plan to attend college to become a neonatal nurse practitioner,” Riffe said. 

“I also want to travel around the United States before I settle down and start a family.” 

Cheylin Woodruff, a senior at PCHS, is a member of the National Honor Society, STEM and the Fellowship of Christian Students.

She is also a member of the youth group at the Church of God and is a member of the Army National Guard.

Woodruff will attend Marshall University in the fall to pursue a degree in Environmental Science and Conservation.  
After graduation, she hopes to work in the field of marine conservation. 

“I think there’s a need to inform students about the dangers of doing drugs and drinking alcohol,” Woodruff said. “We have to tell them how not to give in to peer pressure, and how to stay away from drugs and alcohol.”

The Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition would like to express its sincere gratitude to the sponsors of the 2020-2022 Warriors Above the Influence poster: Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department, Pocahontas County Schools, Marlinton Rotary, The Pocahontas Times, Help and Hope WV, Community Connections, Inc., Snowshoe and the Snowshoe Foundation, Pocahontas County Prevention Coalition and Allegheny Mountain Radio.

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