Hooton, the president and founder of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, kicked off Saturday's PLAY Campaign at Dodger Stadium with a discussion about performance-enhancing drugs and their impact on youth. Hooton's son, Taylor, for which the foundation is named, took his own life 2003 at 17 years old after using anabolic steroids.
Hooton said many parents are unaware of the prevalence of performance-enhancing drug usage in high schools, and he travels to all 30 Major League ballparks to talk to children and parents about the dangers of those drugs as part of the PLAY Campaign.
After he gives that talk, children get the chance to learn healthy alternatives to reaching their goals. The "PLAY" in PLAY Campaign stands for Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth. PLAY was created in 2004 to raise awareness about children's health issues and the obesity epidemic in the United States. Since then, it has expanded into a multipronged effort to spread positive messages about living a healthier lifestyle and making good decisions.
Saturday's event included members of the Dodgers medical staff as well as left-hander Paul Maholm showing 75 children from California District 18 Little League how to eat, stretch and exercise their way to their dreams.
"One of the things I love best about this program and the partnership with athletic trainers and the strength coaches is that I get to deliver the hard message on why they shouldn't be fooling with these drugs, but the athletic trainers and strength coaches can step out onto the field and reassure them that you can achieve your objectives through hard work and proper diet and exercise," Hooton said.
"And then we're going to have a Dodger player with a Dodger shirt come out and give them reassurance from a player's level that these guys out on the field also can make it. You can make it all the way to the top without using drugs."
The Little Leaguers were divided into groups and rotated through stations touching on healthy eating, injury prevention and strength and conditioning -- all led by members of the Dodgers medical staff. They also took a tour of the Dodgers' clubhouse and workout facilities, meeting Maholm in the process.
"I think this gives them a great opportunity to kind of see what the Major League guys go through every day with the stretching and conditioning and learning about how healthy they eat," said assistant Dodgers athletic trainer Nancy Patterson. "So even if they don't want to be a professional baseball player, they still get some firsthand knowledge of what these guys are doing to take care of themselves."
Milan Mrakich, California District 18 administrator, has been involved in Little League baseball for 37 years and has seen how the right information -- or wrong information -- can impact young players.
"A lot of these kids get misconceptions about what they should and should not be doing," Mrakich said. "That's why it's so important we run these clinics and get the information out -- the correct information, from the people who actually work with the pro ballplayers and know what they're talking about."
It's also important to connect with the parents, who serve as the gatekeepers for their children, Hooton said. He said he thought Saturday's event was one of the best he's done this year in terms of how responsive parents and their children were.
However, he still has one more person with which to share his message.
"After this is all over, I'll get to sit down with Clayton Kershaw," Hooton said. "He has joined our team and is going to be the role model from the Dodgers that's stepping forward to help us deliver a real positive message to kids about -- it's all me. It's about me and working hard."