Brandon's Blog: U-M Volleyball Blocks Out Bullying

Sept. 24, 2012

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

More than 1,200 grade-school students packed Cliff Keen Arena just a little over a week ago for the Michigan-Eastern Michigan volleyball match. While good crowds and strong support for the Wolverine volleyball team continue to grow, this crowd was special.

The U-M women hosted the first-ever "Block Out Bullying" event, and the results for both the visiting students and our U-M student-athletes were gratifying.

The students from Ann Arbor and surrounding school districts came to campus to participate in fun and educational activities related to the growing problem of bullying. In fact, two schools -- Pattengill Elementary in Ann Arbor and Creekside Intermediate from Dexter -- had their entire student body in attendance. (This was the first-ever all-school field trip for Creekside!)

This event was centered around the volleyball match, but the promotion was more than just a game and the effort of one sport. A group of 60-plus U-M student-athletes representing nearly all of our sports came together to discuss and hopefully educate young people about the problem.

It started in Oosterbaan Field House one hour prior to the match. Volleyball head coach Mark Rosen addressed the visiting students, teachers and parents on his own experience with bullying and urged all of them to put an end to it.

A video produced by the volleyball team helped put the students at ease and gave them an insight into the issue. After the video, the students broke into smaller groups and our student-athletes shared their personal stories about bullying. The U-M student-athletes were honest and open.

At the end of the talk, each student was asked to write down a name or phrase that has been used when they have felt bullied and then make it into a paper airplane. Those paper airplanes were then brought into Cliff Keen Arena for the Michigan-Eastern Michigan volleyball contest.

As these young students walked into Keen, the U-M volleyball team was warming up in yellow shirts that continued the anti-bullying theme. Imprinted on the back of each shirt was a word that had been used when that individual felt bullied. (Volunteer assistant coach Craig Boller wore his shirt throughout the entire contest.)

In between the second and third sets of the match, the visiting students were asked to take their planes and throw them toward the court, symbolizing they were "letting go" of that word or phrase. The sight of 1,200 young students tossing the paper airplanes toward the floor was only made even more memorable by the sound of laughing and screaming with delight.

The feedback from this event has been wonderful. While the event might have been for only one morning, the Wolverine volleyball team plans to go into the community to take the anti-bullying message directly into the schools.

It was a fun morning for everyone involved, but more importantly, it was the start of an ongoing educational effort to help stop the senseless act of bullying.

Like Coach Rosen told the students before he left Oosterbaan Field House, "There will be two teams on the court, and if you are cheering for Michigan, it's great. If you are cheering for Eastern Michigan, it's also great. Just remember, cheer for someone, not against someone else."

Sports are a wonderful vehicle to help convey the lessons athletes learned in practice and on the field of competition. Sports show the importance of teamwork and how individuals can do so much more when they are part of a team. Events like last week provide a great way for our student-athletes to assume the role of educators, leaders and mentors for young people looking for role models who will make a positive impact on their lives.

Watching our student-athletes and athletic department team work together with the neighboring schools to pull off this educational and fun event makes all of us proud. Thanks to all of you who made this day possible!!

Go Blue!

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