Sep 05, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To the adults – administrators, teachers, parents, coaches, anyone – involved in our schools, a tremendous opportunity lies in front of you.
All of us know what happened at Cicero-North Syracuse. Long-time softball coach Kerry Bennett was fired a month after Brittany Paul and her father accused Bennett and his staff of not doing enough to curb the behavior of others in the wake of her decision to go to the senior ball instead of playing in the June 9 state championship game.
The decision was met with a firestorm of criticism, especially from Bennett’s former players and coaching peers, who have made their displeasure known to the school board and anyone else who would listen. They feel that it was a rush to judgment, an unfair punishment for a man who spent more than three decades building a softball dynasty at C-NS.
Lost in all the posturing, though, was the background issue, one that must be brought to the forefront – bullying, a word very loaded but, at the same time, very pertinent.
Paul and her father claimed she was subject to bullying, from mean-spirited texts and phone messages to vandalism of her car, serious accusations that no one in a place of authority should ignore.
In my view, the North Syracuse School Board had a moral duty to see whether this was true. Anyone who suggests otherwise shows a lack of sensitivity or, worse yet, gives a tacit endorsement to questionable, if not criminal, behavior on the part of kids and adults alike.
This topic, to a small degree, hits home for me in that there were times where, in one small form or another, I was picked on in school because I would respond to it, sometimes badly.
I don’t think it added up to “bullying” as we would call it, and a lot of that was my own fault for the way I reacted to the teasing, but because of that I tend to always have a sympathetic ear for those that get picked on, laughed at and ridiculed, the powerless made to feel more so by the powerful.
Thankfully, more attention has been given to the topic of bullying in recent years, with incidents springing up all over this country, too numerous to count and too varied to go through in this space. Inevitably, it’s found its way into high school sports, and not just in this area.
At Williamsville South, near Buffalo, a long-time basketball and golf coach, Al Monaco, was fired last month amid charges from parents that he had berated some players, one of them about his weight.
As with C-NS, there was community uproar, along with a heated defense of Monaco by former players and other parents, which forced one of the parents, a Buffalo police officer, to speak publicly about the way his son was treated – which drew withering criticism from Monaco’s supporters.
Yet it’s difficult to blame Williamsville school officials for sensitivity on the bullying issue. One year ago, a 14-year old freshman at Williamsville East High School named Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life, after he said he was bullied for a year for revealing that he was bisexual. The case drew national attention and calls for legislation to stop bullying.
Some people in power have listened. Effective July 1, the New York State Dignity for All Students Act, or DASA, protects all elementary and secondary school students from harassment, hazing and bullying, whether by peers or by adults, for any number of factors, ranging from race and gender to weight and sexual orientation.
Laws in the books are nice and important. But actions are far more effective.
So it’s up to those in positions of power and influence to take the lead. It’s up to administrators to live up to the promises of DASA and vigorously pursue bullying cases, wherever they may rise.
It’s up to teachers to be vigilant in their classrooms and root out poor behavior, especially at the elementary level, because that’s where bullying can start, over the silliest of things, and it can grow and mushroom into something far more sinister.
It’s up to coaches and those that run other extracurricular activities to insure that team and group bonding does not evolve into rituals that can turn ugly. Rookie pranks are one thing, but hazing must never be acceptable.
Most of all, it’s up to parents to set the right course at home. Bullying, like other forms of prejudice, is not inherent in us. It’s taught, and if moms and dads can steer children toward tolerance and acceptance of others different from them, it frees the burden from other adults.
Such steps might not bring back popular, respected coaches like Kerry Bennett to their posts. But they can keep us from having similar discussions in the future. More importantly, they can lead all of us to becoming better human beings, and that’s a goal well worth pursuing.