Mary Roop is billboard winner with message of abstinence

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By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

Mary Roop and Blount Health Educators are hoping that the public buys into an idea they have "For Sale" on a billboard that will be up at three locations beginning Friday, May 25.

The billboard reads, "For Sale: Don’t sell yourself to the idea of sex before marriage!"

Mary, a 12-year-old rising eighth grader at Maryville Middle School, won a poster contest among middle schools throughout the county, Maryville and Alcoa city school systems. The contest was sponsored by Blount Health Educators, Inc.

Sandie Hodges, executive director of Blount Health Educators, said the billboard locations are above Subs and Such on Calderwood Street, at East Broadway Avenue near Eagleton ball field and on West Lamar Alexander Parkway going toward
Lenoir City on the left past William Blount Drive.

Roop was excited about seeing the new billboard.

"It is very exciting," Roop said about winning. "My idea was that when people have sex before marrying, they’re selling themselves short to what life has to offer, and that’s the message."

Mary said it took her 24 hours to create the poster. "I did it the night before the contest entry was due," she said.

The rising eighth grader didn’t think she had the winning entry. "I saw how good everyone else’s was," she said. "I thought others were better than mine."

Her parents were proud of her. "They were excited I had done it all by myself without help from them," she said.

Her friends were excited for her, too. "They thought it was pretty neat, and they were congratulating me and asking me what I was going to do with the money," she said. She won $100 in prize money.

Roop said she’ll draw strength from winning this contest when she’s tempted to have sex before marriage. "If I’m ever tempted, I can go back to that and say I was a role model, and that will help me make better choices than some make in their lives," she said.

Hodges said the Blount Health Educators Slogan Poster Contest has been going on for six years. The organization has a state grant that requires they do a community outreach project. "We wanted to do something that would help the community be aware of teen pregnancy and the STD prevention education being taught in Blount County, Maryville City and Alcoa," she said. "We wanted it to be youth-led with a youth message."

The contest was promoted at middle schools in all three systems in Blount County. "This year we had 179 entries, which is the most we’ve ever had," she said. "It also was promoted through our community teen pregnancy prevention task force, which is through Blount Memorial Hospital community outreach department."

There were four judges from several organizations who participated on the task force, including participants from the Health Department, Children and Family Services, Blount County Schools Resource Office and nurses from the school systems, she said.

Hodges said the contest gave attention to a message the students have been hearing since sixth grade. "They’ve heard it quite frequently and believed in it and have embraced it," she said.

Hodges said the first place for a student was $100 with $50 for second place and $25 for third place. The health teacher whose student was first got $250 for the class, with $125 for their classroom teacher for second and $75 for third.

Sarah Jane Roberts, seventh grade health teacher said the students at the school were very enthusiastic about the contest, in part because they had just finished a course the Blount Health Educators Melissa Romans family life class. "I’d say the money played a part in it, too," she said.

Roberts was impressed with Mary’s entry. "Mary’s entry, I thought it was very clever," she said. "Mary is very thoughtful, and she puts forth 110 percent effort in any class she’s in. She’s very competitive."

Principal Lisa McGinley said she was very proud of the more than 100 students who participated in the contest at the school. "I’m very proud and pleased with the interest they took in the contest and that they took it seriously," she said.

Second place winner, with the message "We will when ‘We Do.’ Abstinence Until Marriage" was Holden Drake. The poster that won third place, by Hannah Payne, said "Children in the back seat don’t cause accidents. Accidents in the back seat cause children."

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