FORT WAYNE—It’s not really about a basketball game; nor is it just a glitzy, one-shot media campaign. Diveeta Thompson’s work in the community is a mission, the most serious kind there is—a mission to save lives.
On Oct. 17, 2008, Thompson received the worst news any mother could receive. Her son, 18-year-old Rodney O. Thompson, had been killed in an accident when he lost control of the car he was driving and hit a utility pole. Investigators determined that the accident was the result of him attempting to send or read text messages while he was driving.
Though nearly five years ago now, Thompson would tell you that the pain of that loss hasn’t faded—especially this time of year as family and friends would have been celebrating Rodney’s 23rd birthday on June 26. Despite the pain, Diveeta Thompson plans to once again honor her son’s life as she has done for the past four years with an event that reminds people of his love for life and provides an opportunity to teach others about the danger of distracted driving.
Beginning at 11 a.m., June 22, RockSolid 626 Inc.—in partnership with Vera Bradley, the YMCA, Ende Racing, InStyle Creative Marketing and Frost Illustrated—is scheduled to present the Fifth Annual Rock Solid 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave. The tournament, while allowing sports enthusiasts—like Rodney, who was a “rock solid” basketball player at Homestead High School where he was a senior when he died—to test their on court skills, primarily provides an opportunity for Diveeta Thompson to teach others, particularly young people, about the dangers of distracted driving. It’s also an opportunity to pledge to a non-profit organization she started called STANDD—Stop Texting AND Driving Distracted.
According to the organization’s mission statement listed at www.standd.org, STANDD is designed to “encourage individuals to Stop Texting AND Driving Distracted, while promoting safety and empowerment through knowledge, education and purpose.” The organization’s vision is to “reduce the number of accidents and deaths as it relates to distracted driving and increase graduation percentages and college opportunities.”
While the 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament is one of STANDD’s highest profile events, Thompson’s work to save lives is never done. She accepts numerous speaking engagements throughout the year at schools, public events and in the media, never missing a chance to spread her life-saving message. She’s even appeared on the acclaimed Oprah Winfrey show.
Part of her message is to inform people, particularly young people, that texting isn’t the only form of “distracted driving” that can cause an accident and cost someone his or her life. Radios, MP3 and CD players also can be a source of distraction for drivers that could cause them to take their eyes off the road for just a fateful second. Even just talking on a cell phone while driving can be very dangerous.
In an article published on the University of Utah U News Center website (http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/hands-free-talking-texting-are-unsafe/) University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer discussed the findings of a study conducted by the school and the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation for Traffic Safety.
“Our research shows that hands-free is not risk-free,” Strayer is quoted as saying in the article.
He explained that hands free devices still present risks.
“These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver’s attention and impair their ability to drive safely,” said Strayer in the article. “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer—by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems—may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”
According to the article:
“In a 2006 study, Strayer first showed talking on a hands-free cell phone was just as distracting as using a hand-held phone while driving, but the message has failed to fully connect with the public, with many people believing hands-free devices are safer.”
Thompson has been spreading that message non-stop for the past five years and said she will continue to do so as a life’s and life-saving work.
As further encouragement to get young people to hear and heed warnings about distracted driving, the 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament serves a fundraising event for STANDD’s scholarship program. As the STANDD website explains:
“Rodney planned to attend Indiana University to study law. He wanted to become a lawyer so he could aid those less fortunate. It was his desire to give back. Unfortunately, Rodney’s goal to attend college will never be realized. In tribute to his legacy, the Rodney O. Thompson, II Scholarship has been established to help other young people fulfill their goal of attending college after high school. In an effort to help others live life to its fullest potential, this scholarship has been established to help offset a portion of college expenses by way of a monetary award.
Proceeds from the annual basketball tournament benefit the scholarship fund.
Registration for the Fifth Annual RockSolid 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament is $80 per team for a four-player team in advance or $100 the day of the event. Teams are open to players age 13 and older. Tickets for spectators are $5. To register in advance, visit http://www.rocksolid3on3.com/register.html or call (260) 676-4683.
This article originally appeared in the June 19 print edition.