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Junior high coaches to take lead in character building program for boys in Plum

| Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Oblock Junior High male athletes can take part in a program designed to give them the tools they need to become respectful men.

The Plum School Board in November approved the district's participation in Coaching Boys Into Men, a program that works with athletic coaches to teach male athletes about building healthy relationships and how to intervene when they see disrespectful and abusive behavior among their peers.

The board approved the program after a presentation by Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Miller collaborated with Futures Without Violence, a national nonprofit, to create the program.

“Coaches are super powerful mentors for young men,” Miller said.

She said Oblock Junior High is one of about 40 middle schools in the region, including those in the Gateway, Woodland Hills, Shaler Area and Bethel Park districts, as well as Pittsburgh Public Schools, to participate in the program, which will serve as a research study. The results, expected in a couple of years, will be shared privately with the participating districts. There is no cost to the districts or participants.

The program begins with a parental permission form and an online anonymous survey to be completed by the athletes. Participation is voluntary. Athletes complete another survey at the end of the program, Miller said.

Next, Oblock coaches who choose to participate will be trained to recognize negative behaviors that are common among middle-school athletes including sexual harassment, bullying in person and by social media, homophobic teasing and the use of demeaning language. The coaches also will be trained on the conversations to have with athletes about behaviors that also can include appropriate attitudes toward women — even though, as Miller said, most middle schoolers are not dating in the traditional sense.

Miller told board members another key component of the program that coaches will learn is teaching athletes how to intervene when their peers are engaging in disrespectful behaviors.

The coaches will talk with male athletes about stopping and preventing violence and abuse by using a series of training cards that guide athletes through weekly, 15-minute conversations during the sports season. Lessons focus on respect, nonviolence, integrity and leadership, Miller said.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool endorses the program.

“It is 15 minutes a week,” Glasspool said. “It is not a big imposition. It will not take away from class or sports time.”

Oblock Junior High School Principal Joe Fishell expects coaches to welcome the program.

“The junior high coaches are serious about helping kids out,” Fishell said. “I can't imagine a coach not wanting to do this. We want to bring boys to men. It is a wonderful program.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2367 or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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