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The Powerful Allure of Celebrity

April 26, 1998

When Granada Hills High School announced plans to rename its Bryce Schurr Football Stadium, dedicated to the school's founding principal, for pro football player and alumnus John Elway, school officials and boosters didn't expect to face fierce public outcry over the move.

Those who opposed the renaming said it was a flagrant example of society's fascination with celebrity and disregard for dedicated educators. Supporters said the Denver Broncos quarterback is someone young people should emulate because he was a scholar and athlete at Granada Hills and uses his celebrity to benefit others.

Their plans to rename the entire athletic complex after Schurr and erect a bust in his honor in the gymnasium, they said, got lost in the brouhaha over renaming the football stadium. After a community meeting last week, the school decided to move ahead with plans to honor both.

Still, the debate raised questions over society's propensity to laud celebrities over everyday heroes. KARIMA A. HAYNES asked a professor of child development, a school principal and a campus minister why celebrities hold greater influence over youth than lesser-known people.

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BARBARA POLLAND, Professor of Child Development, Cal State Northridge

If you ask the kids at the school, "What do you know about Bryce Schurr?" "How was he an inspiration to you?" "What do you admire about him?" "What was it that he stood for?" The answers will come back, "I don't know," "He must have been important," "He probably cared about kids." If you ask the same series of questions about John Elway, there may be a number of students who have answers. The athletes know who he is, and the rest of the student population, who don't know him, will get answers from their classmates. In Schurr's case, they may have to do some research.

It's not that we want to dispose of old heroes, but in the interest of timeliness we can create a whole new atmosphere at a school through a name change. Hopefully, the school is beginning to connect the name change with the positive impact the name change will have on the students. The renaming could impact the students by showing them someone who attended the same high school and went on to become successful in their chosen field.

Elway obviously has not forgotten where he came from. He has returned to his community and given back to the school. He represents more than just athletics. He was obviously a good student or he wouldn't have gotten into Stanford.

There are some athletes who are a disgrace in the athletic arena and in their lives off the field. They rake in millions and do little for others. Why do we admire that? There are other athletes who care about themselves, the communities where they have their roots and the greater community.

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STEPHANIE CONNELLY, Principal, Notre Dame High School, Sherman Oaks

If everybody tried to perform their vocation to the best of their ability, than they should be considered a celebrity in their own right. The fact that they are not famous is something that cannot be changed, but that doesn't mean they should be held in any less regard.

In general, kids are focused on the entertainment media. Kids have been brought up with TV, movies, magazines, radio and video games. It is their reality. They are not free of the effects media have on their lives. The challenge of educators is to get kids to recognize people with values and morals and to present them as real-life role models. Kids shouldn't select a role model only because they are up on a wide screen. We try to help kids find role models in their teachers, coaches and parents. We also try to teach them the difference between right and wrong and about morals and values in our religion classes.

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PATRICIA ANDRE, Campus ministry director, Chaminade Middle School, Chatsworth

Because the media focus so much attention on athletic and pop-culture standouts and their disproportionate salaries, today's youth equate financial success with life success. The lesson we need to teach is that the true value of an individual comes from the qualities they possess and their desire to help others in need.

It's great to be a financial success but we want our students to understand that it's the time you spend and the personal contact with others that truly makes your life a success.

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