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Mission accomplished: Gut Check grads march out tall

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Gainesville Jaycees member and Gut Check co-director Lincoln Griffin, right, shows a program graduate his Gut Check diploma on Sunday at the Gainesville Civic Center.

July 19, 2009
By Morgan Lee Editor


GAINESVILLE -- On Thursday, Davey Cantrell found himself wondering just what in the world he’d gotten himself into.

Tired, nervous and unsure of just what was coming next, Cantrell and 54 other Hall County boys were put through the paces of the Gainesville Jaycees’ Gut Check program on the campus of North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega.

“We stayed up until two in the morning just learning how to march,” said Cantrell, a student at East Hall Middle School. “I was so tired.”

By Sunday, however, Cantrell was talking of lessons learned and how just four days had shaped his life.

“I feel like I accomplished something big,” Cantrell said. “I feel like I can do more now. I know how to keep myself and others motivated.”

For parents, families, teachers -- and not least, the Jaycees -- that’s the kind of talk that makes the Gut Check program worth every minute.

“That’s the great thing about Gut Check, is that it teaches you the discipline you need to make the right choices in life,” noted Hall County Sheriff and Gut Check graduation speaker Steve Cronic.

United States Representative Nathan Deal, the graduation ceremony’s keynote speaker, also spoke highly of what Gut Check instills in its participants.

“Courage is what happens when you overcome fear,” Deal noted. “And this program gives you the discipline and encouragement to overcome fear.”

Begun in 1997 as a method of imparting leadership and life skills to pre-teen boys in Hall County, the program guides candidates through team-building exercises that include ropes courses and rappelling -- all backed with military-style discipline.

“It’s a leadership training program,” Gut Check co-director Matt Dubnik said. “The program is designed to teach kids to be assertive, be leaders, how to stand up for themselves and how to make a difference in the community.”

Sunday’s graduation ceremony -- which included diplomas for all the candidates and some special awards (including graduate Eric Camacho being named "Mr. Gut Check") -- capped the latest installment of the program, and it seemed that all involved were pleased with the results.

“It’s pretty impressive to see how they all marched in,” Davey’s father, Scott Cantrell, said. “They got him working as a member of team; that’s exactly what he needs.”

After graduating from the program last summer, 16-year-old Christopher Feanny signed up to go again -- this time as a junior counselor (known as a “sixth squad” member) -- and while this year’s experience differed, he was still glad to have been a part of Gut Check ’09.

“This time I was washing the clothes of the kids in the program after they got in the mud, but I still got down with them and took part in the PT [physical training] and had a good time,” Feanny said. “I would recommend this for anybody.”

So would Feanny’s parents, Radcliffe and Samantha, who also sent their younger son Jourdin to the program this summer and last.

“When they came home, it was a lot easier to get them to do things like clean their room,” Samantha Feanny said. “They had a sense of responsibility and maturity.

“This is absolutely awesome. The program isn’t really for ‘at-risk’ kids, it’s meant for everyone. Because at this age boys are at a crucial point where they either learn to be a leader or a follower. And this tries to teach them to take a lead, or at least follow someone who’s going on the right path.”

Jourdin put in simpler terms.

“It taught me to be a man,” he said.


A special thanks to Access North Georgia for contributing this article and these photos.




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