Sept. 13, 2012
By Morgan Bailey
"Four-eyes." "Thunder thighs." "Brace-face." They may seem like innocent phrases, but when directed at another person, they can be demoralizing. What might seem like a joke to one person can make another dread going to school the next day. Bullying is a topic that hits close to home for a lot of people -- even student-athletes at the University of Michigan.
On any given Saturday, millions of kids sit in front of their televisions and idolize the players wearing the winged helmets on the football field. When the basketball team walks into a room, all heads turn. Youngsters wait for the ice hockey locker room to clear out so they can get an autograph from their idol. What those wide-eyed kids don't realize, however, is that their heroes went through all of the pains of growing up as well, even the bullying.
The University of Michigan volleyball team has decided to share its stories with the community and stand up against bullying.
On Friday (Sept. 14), the volleyball team will be hosting the first "Block Out Bullying" event at U-M for local grade schools. Arriving mid-morning, more than 1,200 students ranging from 4th to 6th grade will travel to Oosterbaan Field House, where they will be greeted by a variety of Michigan student-athletes. A number of interactive booths will allow the students to mingle with the student-athletes and hear their experiences with bullying.
"It will be really good for young kids to see the players. Even though they are high profile, very successful athletes, they have insecurities and they have been picked on before," commented Mark Rosen, who is entering his 14th season as the Wolverines head volleyball coach. "We're really trying to show the kids that bullying is not something they are just going through."
After interacting with student-athletes from a number of teams, the students will head over to Cliff Keen Arena, where they will cheer on the Wolverine volleyball players as they take on Eastern Michigan University.
"That was our big thing, we didn't want this event to be just volleyball," Rosen remarked. "Our match is going to be the highlight of the event, but we want all student-athletes to be involved because it's something that we have all gone through."
To further raise awareness about bullying, each of the Michigan volleyball players will be wearing a T-shirt that display the name she was called when growing up.
"When you're an adolescent, it doesn't matter how popular you are, how smart you are, how athletic you are -- someone is going to find something to pick on," said Rosen. "As athletes, our players were bigger than everyone else growing up. Trying to get a date when you are 6-feet 4-inches tall as a junior in high school, it's hard to do."
Rosen also commented on the number of stories that are in the news about people hurting themselves or others, and how often times it traces back to them being bullied as a kid.
"When you're young, you can't filter through that stuff -- it hits you right at home," Rosen remarked. "We talked to a few principals and it's amazing how much the topic of bullying is on their agenda right now because it is such a big issue. Any way that we can help prevent bullying, I think is great."
With the overwhelming response that the team received from local schools, the goal is to continue to build the event in future years. But for now, the focus is on this Friday.
Whether it's showing a kid who is experiencing bullying that they are not alone or making a bully think twice the next time they pick on someone, the Michigan volleyball program is seizing the opportunity to block out bullying.
"Our goal is to get these kids in front of our student-athletes and allow them to gain some strength from that."