The turnout wasn't the numbers town sports recreation coordinator Teddy Pettet and Gila County School officials had hoped for, but the youngsters who showed up enjoyed a special afternoon with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.
The Gorilla -- accompanied by Phoenix Fire Captain Jay Arthur-- visited the Payson Youth Recreation program June 22 to present Inhale Life. The interactive program is designed to teach youngsters about the harmful aspects of tobacco. It is a part of a Tobacco Awareness program sponsored by the Gila County Schools with a grant from the Department of Health Services.
The performances in the Rim Country Middle School gym began with Gorilla manager Paul Smith reading a story about the harmful effects of tobacco and the Gorilla acting out a skit.
One of the more embarrassing moments for youth recreation supervisor Jill Dendy occurred when the Gorilla was able to sneak in a kiss.
Throughout the skit, the renowned mascot's message was that staying away from tobacco will help youngsters become better athletes.
The Gorilla gave two performances -- one at 1 p.m. and another at 3 p.m. About 30 youngsters showed up for each; officials were hoping for more than 100 at each performance.
Tobacco prevention information was distributed to children, prizes were given out that included Phoenix Suns tickets and mini-basketballs, and Inhale Life Be Tobacco Free sweatbands were distributed.
According to Arizona Department of Health representatives, the assemblies exemplify the ADHS anti-tobacco program's commitment to delivering tobacco-use prevention and cessation message to children statewide through advertising, educational programs and special events.
The Gorilla and Captain Arthur will travel this year to 40 schools throughout Arizona to put on the assemblies.