Coaching Boys Into Men tries to reduce sexual violence through dialogue
February 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Joe Ehrmann, co-founder of Coach for America, was the keynote speaker at a Coaching Boys Into Men symposium Saturday at PNC Park's Rivertowne Hall of Fame Club.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Daniel Shipman remembers the role that coaches played in his life, not just in athletics, but off the court.
His college basketball coach, in particular, “helped me learn to respect myself and others.”
A month ago, Mr. Shipman, now a Ringgold High School social studies teacher and assistant boys basketball coach, decided to try to tackle one of the toughest issues coaches can contemplate addressing with their teenage athletes: sexual violence against girls and women.
“There were some [recent] incidents that happened in our school and I wanted to do something about it,” said Mr. Shipman, who added that as the father of two young girls, the issue is more than personal to him.
He called his district superintendent, Karen Polkabla, and found her eager to support his idea. A day later she sent him an email with information about the national Coaching Boys Into Men program.
The now 11-year-old program, created by two national non-profits, is in use in hundreds and possibly thousands of schools and organizations across the country – it’s hard to count because the materials are free to download — including 25 in the Pittsburgh area. Research has proven it to be effective in not only getting boys to recognize sexual violence in others and intervene, but also to decrease their own likelihood of committing such acts.
“The thing I really love about it is it’s really simple,” said Elizabeth Miller, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at UPMC, who oversaw the research on the program. ”You tell your coaches you want your boys to be good role models, to be leaders in your school.”
The program is not a complete solution, she said, but, ”I think it is one piece in the violence-prevention puzzle.”
By chance for Mr. Shipman, the program was about to hold a free regional training session in Pittsburgh for any high school, college or community coach who wanted to learn how to start a conversation with male athletes.
So on Saturday, Mr. Shipman and about 50 other coaches attended a two-hour training session for the program at the Rivertowne Hall of Fame Club overlooking the outfield at PNC Park, a space provided by the Pirates as part of their recent support for the program.
To give coaches some broader perspective on why the program was important, before the training session, the local program sponsor, the FISA Foundation, brought in nationally known speaker and former NFL lineman Joe Ehrmann to remind the participants why such a program is necessary.
“What moves most men from the sports page to the criminal page is a false concept of masculinity,” said Mr. Ehrmann, himself a successful high school football coach at the Gilman School in Baltimore.
To change that concept that can lead to violence against girls and women, he said, people need to find a way to reach boys and men and, “Sports is the biggest men’s club in the world. If you want to reach men, sports is a way in.”
Programs as diverse as the City of Pittsburgh parks department, to Gateway High School and California University of Pennsylvania, to local non-profits such as Haven House’s Afterschool Program sent coaches to Saturday’s program.
The program has its roots in research from the 1990s that showed efforts to get girls and women to act on their own to recognize and stop sexual or dating violence were working.
But a group of national non-profits realized the same metrics showed “we weren’t moving the needle with men,” said Brian O’Connor, director of public education for Futures Without Violence, one of the groups that created the program, along with the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention. “So we knew we needed to do something to bring men into the conversation.”
The result was the Coaching Boys Into Men program. It launched with a general guide in 2005 and evolved into a full coaches kit — an evolution that continues now. Recent additions include more focus on social media and homophobic bullying. There is an effort to adapt the program to college-age athletes, and a current pilot program in more than 40 middle schools in the Pittsburgh area would bring it to younger students.
After attending Saturday’s session, Mr. Shipman said when he returns to Ringgold High School on Monday, ”The first thing I’m going to do is call the superintendent and try to get her and other coaches to be a part of it and come and attend a session.”
Sean D. Hamill: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2579 or on Twitter @SeanDHamill.
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