Coaches are key to new anti-violence program in high schools

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - A national violence prevention program is launching in local high schools this year, teaching young athletes about healthy relationships and that violence doesn't equal strength.

Coaches are instrumental in making it a success.

"Any time you can be proactive for young people and try to help them build healthy relationships, I think it's just a good thing to do," says De Pere Schools athletics director Jeff Byczek.

He's excited De Pere is one of two high schools so far in Brown County participating in the nationally-known program called Coaching Boys into Men or Athletes as Leaders.

It equips people that young athletes greatly respect -- their coaches -- with specific curriculum.

They spend 15 minutes a week talking with students about tough topics.

"It's about building healthy relationships and learning how to talk to one another," says Byczek.

"This program is about character development, so it's about teaching our young people about teen dating violence, ultimately domestic violence, respect for women and healthy relationships, which is something that, if you just listen to the news, you can see is a problem in our community," says Brown County Circuit Court Judge Tom Walsh.

He heard about the program at a judicial training session and immediately wanted to bring it Northeast Wisconsin.

Judge Walsh partnered with Golden House, a domestic violence shelter and program in Green Bay, and started meeting with local schools this summer.

"Recent stats show one in five teens are going to experience some form of violence in a dating relationship, and that is a problem in our community," says Judge Walsh.

He and the schools believe it's the influence coaches have in getting kids to listen that makes this click.

"The messages they hear from their high school coaches, they remember those when they get to be my age," Judge Walsh says, "so I thought this was an amazing way to carry out that message."

"It's not just the coaches but the team environment itself. It's important to the kids. They respect, for the most part, their teammates a lot, and they can have a big impact on them," adds Byczek.

The judge says De Pere and West De Pere Schools have signed on, but he's hoping to get many other schools to give it a try.

De Pere plans to start with at least one boys and one girls team this winter.

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