He had them right in the palm of his upturned hand. The entire student body of the Greensburg Junior High School seemed to wait in anticipation as his right hand slowly moved closer to the palm of his left. When the two hands would cross each other, the students were to respond with two loud claps, in unison, for no other reason than the smiling man on stage had challenged them to do it.

The guest who towered over these young teens was no chump. He knew they were waiting for the moment to clap, to prove themselves, so he gave them a quick fake out. A few hands clapped together and quickly muted themselves in the quiet room. He, like others in the auditorium, laughed, but it was all in fun.

This time it was for real, and the students responded with enthusiasm. CLAPCLAP CLAPCLAP! Again - CLAPCLAP CLAPCLAP - and again until he was satisfied.

The guest looked down from the stage, seemingly impressed with the student body’s reaction. What may have been more impressive was his ability to keep a whole auditorium of middle school kids awake and engaged on a Friday afternoon, especially considering the theme of the visit was to keep them off drugs and on a path to success.

Then again, Archie Talley, by his own admission, is not an ordinary motivational speaker. A former basketball stand out from West Virginia with a resume draped in accolades, he was the Associated Press College Division “Basketball Player of the Year” in 1976 when he averaged 41.1 points per game, holds the NAIA single season scoring record with 1,349 points, played for the Harlem Globetrotters and the New Jersey Nets and once scored 116 points in one game in the European League. With the swagger of Meadowlark Lemon and the skills of Magic Johnson, he presented a convocation of basketball tricks and fun that seemed more like stand-up comedy than a regular “Don’t Do Drugs” lecture. And that was exactly how he wanted to play it.

“I’m not like most speakers who come to your school and point at you and tell you, you do this and that wrong. I hated those speakers in school. I’m here to remind you that you are special, and you are valuable, and you are rich,” Talley said as he began his program at GJHS. “I’m not here to bore you to death. I’m not going to do that.”

He kept his promise to the kids. Throughout the hour and a half, he put on a show like he did at schools across the nation. Through basketball comparisons and specialized drills, Talley tried to show the kids they can be successful if they stay confident and determined, work hard and are willing to sacrifice.

“You only really need one person to believe in you to achieve that goal, and that person is you,” he said.

Throughout the program, Talley did basketball tricks, such as spinning a ball on his finger while brushing his teeth, shaving his face and combing his hair, among other things. When he asked for volunteers to help him in the audience, the crowd went wild, as if Justin Timberlake or Kobe Bryant had just appeared on stage. However, Talley did not pawn himself off as some flash-in-the-pan role model, and warned the kids about who they looked up to, especially recovering celebrities who tour the nation with their laundry list of mistakes. Talley explained how he has been drug free from birth and proud of it.

“You know why they bring those people who’ve made mistakes in first? Because they’re easier to find,” Talley said. “If you want a role model, don’t look at them. Don’t look at me. I’m not going to feed you tonight. Michael Jordan is not going to feed you tonight. N’SYNC is not going to feed you tonight. If you want to look up to someone, look up at the one who’s going to feed you tonight.”

After the basketball show was over, Talley got down to serious business, but even his talk was laced with comedy and funny stories. He addressed drugs and relationships with ease and seemed to strike a cord among the youngsters. One of his key messages was to implore kids not to take their juvenile relationships too seriously, especially if it means not succeeding in the future.

“Girls, if your boyfriend goes up to you and says, ‘You’re my girlfriend right?’ And you say ‘Yes,’ and they say ‘then you got to choose between me and medical school,’ you better take medical school because you can get another guy,” he said.

Medical school or not, Talley pushed his main message that education was paramount over all things, from drugs to relationships to popularity.

“Knowledge is powerful. Knowledge is priceless, and it can never be taken away,” he said. “I don’t care if you like me. That’s for 2-year-olds. Education is something that is respected. Education is necessary.”

As the clock closed in on three and the buses approached the curb, Talley was still enforcing his messages, hoping to let the students know he cares about “each and every one of” them, and he believed they could all succeed. When he finished, he hoped to sign autographs for the kids, one of his favorite parts of these school visits, but there wasn’t enough time. With a sense of sadness in his face, he instructed the photos to be passed out and let the kids know he would be at the Greensburg basketball game that night. He would make time for them, he promised, and he did.

As the auditorium began to empty cheers, applause and a crowd of smiles seemed to be all the thanks the grinning Talley needed to know he had succeeded.

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