November 10, 2013

Massachusetts schools won’t send obesity letters home

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Jake Knop was about to join the Portland High football team as a freshman and he had some concerns – but not about playing.

“I had heard stories before about the past, people who had been in the school and how they had been hazed against,’’ he said. “I was a little concerned about the hazing at first.’’

But Knop’s concerns were allayed almost instantly. First, he and his classmates walked into their own locker room. Portland has separate locker rooms for the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams and upperclassmen are not allowed in the freshman locker room. Then Portland coach Jim Hartman laid down the no-hazing-allowed talk at the first practice.

“It’s something you have to be vigilant about,’’ said Hartman.

Hazing and bullying have been in the nation’s sports spotlight since the Miami Dolphins last week suspended veteran guard Richie Incognito indefinitely. Incognito allegedly harassed and bullied teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin left the team because of the emotional distress. The NFL is now investigating the incident.

High school and college football coaches and players throughout Maine strive to make sure such situations don’t occur here. Schools across the state have anti-hazing policies that are read to every athlete on every team at the start of every season.

“A kid who plays 12 seasons of athletics here hears that 12 times,’’ said Gary Stevens, the Thornton Academy athletic director.

Jack Cosgrove, the head football coach at the University of Maine, said his team does not differentiate between hazing and bullying. “Hazing can create a culture of unacceptable behavior,’’ he said. “It is a form of bullying.’’

The Miami incident has teams talking, from the University of Maine to the hallways of Thornton Academy in Saco.

“When something like this happens,’’ said Kevin Kezal, the Thornton head coach, “we like to talk about it.’’

And that, said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University, may be the most positive thing to come out of Miami. Bullying is a national problem, and not just in sports. According to www.bullyingstatistics.org, a website that collects and disseminates national data to aid in education about bullying and its prevention, about one in every seven students in grades K-12 is either being bullied or is a bully. And one-third of workers may be victims of workplace bullying.

“When you look at this, and what it does, there’s an awful lot to talk about,’’ said Lebowitz. “Because of the ubiquitous spotlight on sports and the 24-hour spotlight of television, this starts a national conversation on bullying. What needs to happen now is that we take this national conversation and make it an ongoing conversation on bullying.’’

Lebowitz said that the situation in Miami escalated because no one stepped in. “Now we have to empower (people) to feel that they can (step in), to give them the tool set to do it,’’ he said.

Thornton Academy’s hazing policy – crafted by Stevens in 2000 while he was still an administrator at Bonny Eagle – outlines exactly what the school considers to be hazing activities. Each one could also be considered an example of bullying.

Kezal said it is important that the students understand exactly what is expected of them.

“It’s about educating the kids, but also about empathy,’’ said Kezal. “We tell the kids to put on the other kid’s shoes. You’ve got to understand his perceptions. You might not think it’s bullying, but if they perceive it as bullying, it’s a problem.’’

Beyond that, coaches try to create a family atmosphere in their locker rooms.

(Continued on page 2)

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