There’s a special bond between coaches and their players. Now, a program called Coaching Boys Into Men is using that relationship for a good purpose. It works to reduce dating violence and sexual assault by leveraging the influence of coaches, and it’s working in more than 30 school districts across Western Pennsylvania.
The program has actually been proven to work. Researchers at UPMC studied Coaching Boys Into Men at 16 high schools in the state of California. They found that the young athletes who participated in the program were more likely to stop abusive behaviors among their peers and there was a relative reduction in abuse by the athletes in the program.
Here in our area, the basketball team at Cornell High School in Coraopolis is in the middle of the program. There, basketball brings the students together, but it’s only a vehicle for larger lessons for volunteer assistant coach Charles Langston. He leads the Coaching Boys Into Men program there once a week, for fifteen minutes after practice. They talk about important topics for teenagers — guided by the Coaching Boys Into Men playbook.
“Responsibility, accountability, being kind, being generous and also understanding what it means to pay it forward as well,” are Langston’s goals in leading the program. Cornell High School Athletic Director Bill Sacco also believes in using sports as a vehicle for more. “We’re teaching them things they are going to use the rest of their lives,” Sacco says. “They may not use basketball the rest of their lives, but they’ll certainly use the skills they’re learning here.”
Langston and Sacco feel it’s important these boys learn respect for all girls and women. Before they begin the lesson, Langston asked them to repeat after him, “Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, friend,” emphasizing the many women and girls in their lives.
The students say they’re already making changes in their lives, and their parents are noticing. James Fisher, a freshman at Cornell High School, says his parents “told me after I’ve been in the program, I’ve been more into school and been more respectful toward them and other family members.” Junior Ty Luster says he’s learned about “respecting our elders, like our mothers, our sisters, showing them respect around the house, like if we see them carrying groceries, we go get it.”
“Even if it’s a simple skill like holding a door for someone, saying ‘thank you’ to someone, taking hoods off when go into a restaurant,” Sacco says, the lessons are real and practical.
The students like that the lessons come from their coaches — men they respect and look up to. They also like that it’s with their team-mates — people they trust. Senior Antonio Gary says, “We’re all brothers, so talking about things, we’re more comfortable around each other because if I say something that’s personal for me, I know my teammates won’t laugh at me,” he says.
At each lesson, they learn, discuss and then shake on it.
“It’s gonna help everyone, every man, or every young man become a better man and better himself,” Gary says.
The United Way is raising money to expand the Coaching Boys Into Men program to more than the 34 school districts in our region.
If you are interested in donating or getting the program at your school, you can call 211, the United Way’s special phone number.
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