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By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward
Football players at Lafayette High School are standing tall against bullying through a program co-founded by Denver Bronco linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
“Football is big here, and we’re like a big mouth saying ‘We’re against it,’” senior captain Kylan Nelson said one day at practice. “Everybody’s our equal here so everybody should be treated the same. It carries over to what’s taught out here – that we’re our brother’s keeper – so we watch out for classmates whether they’re our teammates or not.”
When Lafayette hosted Woodyard’s summer camp, the teenagers and coaches impressed the former UK standout, who drafted their school to join his 16Ways program. Now, an anti-bullying sticker on the back of each helmet proclaims the Generals’ resolve. Lafayette is the first high school in the state on board; the Lexington Police Activities League also has stickers for kids ages 5-12 in its football program.
LaMont Love, executive director of the 16Ways Foundation, recently spoke to Lafayette parents at a booster club meeting and to the players at a pre-game meal. He described how the national nonprofit develops workshops, camps and other activities designed to build self-esteem, promote personal responsibility and demonstrate the importance of academics, community involvement, and mental and physical fitness. Anti-bullying is a major focus.
“Every high school has a pervasive bullying culture, but we don’t sit back and accept that as part of our reality,” Principal Bryne Jacobs said. “We believe it does not have to be a part of high school, so we try to create a culture to reflect that.”
He is excited about the football team stepping up through 16Ways.
“It’s huge,” Jacobs said. “It’s an expectation that they are leaders in the building, so for a group as visible as the football team to take this stance is impactful.”
From his vantage point, Kylan sees verbal confrontation and cyberbullying as today’s prevalent sore spots, but he’s confident his teammates can meet the challenge.
“Stopping bullying starts with leaders, and being football players, we already have that natural tendency, so we should definitely be able to back up our classmates,” he said. “No one out here is afraid to speak up.”
Head coach Eric Shaw foresees various opportunities for his players to make a difference. For instance, as students change classes during the school day, they can keep an eye out in the hallways and alert a teacher or staff member to potential troublemakers.
“Bullying is a very dangerous, serious thing,” Shaw said. “Football teams are usually the big brother of the school. Once those players are involved, it can change the culture.”
Counting the freshmen, JV and varsity players, nearly 100 students are in Lafayette’s football program. That sizable presence, along with the status of athletes, carries weight.
“Most people respect the football team already, and it’s a matter of integrity,” Kylan said, explaining the Generals’ motivation.
His coach agreed.
“It makes a statement to the student body. The bullies know someone is watching and is not afraid to step in and say something on behalf of those being picked on,” Shaw said. “This is what a school does to take care of one another. We’re making sure those individuals who feel like outcasts feel part of the student body and part of the family.”
Tammy L. Lane is a media and communications specialist with Fayette County Public Schools.