A leader both on and off the football field, Washington High School senior Isaiah Schoonmaker believes a program being used in locker rooms in Washington and Greene county schools is bringing about positive change.
“It definitely does have an impact,” Schoonmaker said Thursday during a roundtable discussion of the Coaching Boys Into Men program. Facilitated by Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the program trains high school coaches to teach their athletes healthy relationship skills and empower them to stand up for integrity, nonviolence and respect.
Washington School District Athletic Director Michael Bosnic, who coaches the high school football team, said he’s surprised by how much students open up when he leads the weekly discussion.
“It really hits home with them,” said Bosnic.
Bosnic talks to his athletes for about 15 minutes every week, covering subjects like respectful language, bullying and integrity.
Schoonmaker agreed that the program has made an impact on his peers.
“It starts at home,” he said. “People watch their parents do it, and think it’s OK. The change is seeing it’s not OK.”
Bosnic said a lot of his players come from broken homes and some are familiar with violent situations.
“Students are a lot more mature. They have serious relationships,” he said. “I see them paying attention to the program.”
Alexandra Brooks, a prevention education coordinator for domestic violence services, said there is an assumption that the program is targeted toward athletes because they are likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence. But that’s not true, she said.
“Athletes are role models,” she said during the discussion, which included representatives of CNX, who presented $7,500 to the organization as part of their Month of Giving.
The program has been used by coaches in Avella, Burgettstown, Canon-McMillan, Carmichaels, Charleroi, Chartiers-Houston, Fort Cherry, Mapletown, McGuffey, Trinity, Washington and West Greene.
Coaches, who can use the assistance of cards with discussion topics on them, are encouraged take 10 to 15 minutes a week to address an issue. Players can also lead discussions.
Allison Weakland, a counselor and education specialist, said abuse among teens, and those who are younger, can be difficult for adults to identify. Abuse is often verbal and includes controlling behaviors, such as monitoring social media sites to ensure a partner isn’t cheating.
“They don’t know how to build trusting relationships,” she said.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control found that athletes who participate in Coaching Boys Into Men were significantly more likely to intervene when witnessing abusive or disrespectful behaviors among their peers.
Brooks said she has been educating teens for years.
“We’ve learned the students can’t just hear it from us,” she said. “When the coach is talking to them, they’re listening.”
Andrea Passman of CNX said the company will continue to support domestic violence services, citing that 1,500 people die every year as a result of domestic violence.
“With those kinds of numbers, we had to get involved,” she said.