Battle of the Belts Locks in Important Lesson

As hundreds of high school students sat in the Maines Veterans Memorial Arena they heard a story from before they were born that may save their life.

Jonathan Mueller suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was a freshman at SUNY Cobleskill. He and two friends were struck by a drunk driver on December 3, 1998. The drunk driver’s life ended in the crash. Mueller’s changed forever.

“I had to learn everything all over again – how to walk, talk, eat and swallow,” said Mueller.

He was in a coma for two months and went to five different rehabilitation centers. He is blind in the left side of both eyes. He can’t recognize faces or animals and has no memory of his life before the crash. He knows only the parts of his life, like his cross-country running career in high school and college, his family tells him.

“Sometimes I have to feel the towel to see if I took a shower,” said Mueller. “15 minutes from now I won’t remember I spoke here to you.”

53 Windsor students were among a group from 17 schools to attend Battle of the Belts and Teen Safety Day. They sat riveted as Mueller showed just how impaired driving from drinking, drugs or being distracted can result in tragedy.

“Maybe you won’t get into an accident. Maybe you won’t get pulled over. Maybe your parents won’t find out. But if one of these things does happen then everyone will know you are an (expletive) because you knew what could happen and you just didn’t care,” said Mueller.

At the end of Mueller’s speech he had all of the students join him in making a pledge to never drink and drive, and to do their best to stop anyone from drinking and driving.

“I liked (Jonathan). I like that he cares and does this every year,” said Windsor senior Kendyl Gorick. “It’s an important message, especially to those who might do it. They can see the consequences.”

“I think where it really makes an impact is the texting aspect, even more than the drinking aspect,” said senior Kara Centorani.

“I think it shows them the consequences of their actions if they don’t make good choices,” said Windsor teacher Kori Smith. “They’re at an age when they sometimes don’t think things through. They live in the moment.”

After Mueller’s speech the students took part in hands-on events that showed the effects impairment and distraction can have on motor skills.

At one station students tried to pedal a four-wheel vehicle down a straight line, then put on goggles that distorted their vision as they pedaled pack.

Finally student teams of four took part in the Battle of the Belts, showing how fast each team member could and buckle the seat belt, then rotate to do the same in each seat of a car.

Windsor won for fastest overall score. The winning team for all teams was the Windsor Volleyball squad of Brady Weingartner, Jakob Getchell, Javier Gonzalez and Kieran Horton.

The biggest win of the day, though, could be using the lessons to avoid tragedy in the future.

“It was cool. I liked the presentation. I learned the consequences about getting into a car with someone who is drunk,” said Windsor senior Benjamin Panziera.

Girl student sitting in a crash simulator ride with state trooper looking on Smiling female high school student with goggles on her head pedaling a four-wheel vehicle. Students are standing behind her.

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