BOB ANASTAS has an infectious zeal for his job. And it's a good thing, because the work done by this former hockey and football coach draws heavily on his powers of persuasion. Seven years ago, Mr. Anastas left a post as high school counselor and coach in a Boston suburb to campaign against drunken driving.
The reason: Two boys he had coached were killed in car accidents. Both had been drinking.
That experience knocked his life out of its track, the gravelly-voiced Anastas says. He felt compelled to do something, but didn't know what. All his training as a counselor seemed irrelevant.
Then it struck him that if teen-age deaths from drinking and driving were going to be stopped, teens themselves would have to stop them. From that simple realization sprang Students Against Driving Drunk. SADD began at Anastas's old school in nearby Wayland, Mass., in 1981. Since then, it has grown to over 11,000 high school chapters across the United States.
Its basic mission is to get kids to admit that drinking and driving is stupid, and that they have a responsiblity to look out for each other. Also, Anastas is determined to open up communication between parents and children on this subject.
The key is ``positive peer pressure,'' SADD's founder proclaims, sitting in front of walls and shelves filled with sports mementos and commendations from civic groups.
This last task relies on what SADD has dubbed the ``Contract for Life,'' an agreement signed by parents and kids specifying that if either has been drinking and needs advice or a ride home, it will be given - no questions asked.
It's clear, given SADD's growth, that Anastas has a genius for inspiring youngsters to take his campaign seriously and want to join up. He and his assistant director, Bill Cullinane, also a former high school counselor, travel frequently to give talks at schools. There they share what they know of the tragedy of drunken-driving deaths and suggest ways to reduce that toll.
Mr. Cullinane recently visited Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, a few miles away from here. According to Rob Sokoloff, a junior active in the SADD chapter there, his talk hit home with a lot of kids.
``He uses good examples, and he knows how kids talk,'' Rob says. ``You could hear a pin drop,'' adds Pamela Ellavsky, an assistant counselor at the school and SADD adviser.
But one inspiring talk does not a victory over drunken driving make. SADD has been active at Lincoln-Sudbury for a couple of years now, but kids in the affluent, woodsy suburb are still drinking heavily and often driving afterward, says Rob.
About 60 out of a 1,200-member student body signed up for SADD at the beginning of this year - a huge jump in interest. But only half are really active.
His friends know it's a good idea to take a stand against drinking and driving, Rob explains, ``but on Friday and Saturday nights, people change, it seems.''
Aren't kids getting the point about having someone stay sober so that the ride home can be safe? ``Truthfully, I don't think it's done much. Personally, I don't trust anybody,'' he admits.
But trust can be built, Anastas affirms. He's been to schools where kids from varying backgrounds have learned to keep each other from drinking and driving. And just as important, he says, is the trust between parent and child embodied in the Contract for Life.
It's a ``no-win situation in the beginning,'' Anastas continues. People argue that the kids will never do it, he says. Parents often accuse him of condoning drinking - since the contract could be read as expecting, or even OK'ing drinking, just so it's not mixed with driving.
That's not really the point, Anastas contends. The point is to cut down on teen traffic fatalities by building in a commitment to help in situations where the potential for irresponsible action exists.
Still, with the candor of youth, Rob observes, ``I guess a lot of kids maybe sign the contract and think it's OK to drink, as long as parents think there's trust.''
And other groups engaged in combating teen drug and alcohol use try, in fact, to take the initiative against underage drinking itself.
``We go further than looking at drinking and driving. We don't think kids should be drinking in the first place,'' says Dick Stickle, executive director of Target, a project of the National Federation of State High School Associations. His organization is developing anti-drinking videos and training students to work with peers to discourage alcohol use.
Anastas has taken his program to the corners of the continent and beyond. He recounts successful trips to Guam, to Indian reservations, to Prince Edward Island - a tiny Canadian province that had had 11 to 15 alcohol-related teen deaths a year.
``I want you to show the adults in this audience that you have total control of your lives,'' Anastas told students there. He challenged them to bring the death toll to zero in the next year. When Cullinane made a follow-up visit, he was greeted with a sign, ``Not one death in a year.''
SADD is trying to take that kind of challenge to the nation now with a new campaign called ``Challenge '88: A Celebration of Life.'' Its goal is to bring teen-age drinking-related deaths below 1,000 a year.
Anastas and SADD have had a big impact in many localities, says Dale Hawley, student activities director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
``I think kids hear Anastas describe what happened to a player on his team, and how it disturbed him to the point where he had to do something, and they can believe that. They think, `Gosh, that kid could have been one of us,''' says Mr. Hawley. ``Kids don't want to lose each other.''