The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 18, 2013

Mavericks 'Stand Up' to bullying

By Jim Rueda
The Free Press

— Sometimes great minds really do think alike.

   Earlier this school year, Minnesota State graduate student Steve Walter was looking for a project he could do as part of his internship for marketing and athletics. He knew that bullying was one of the hot topics in schools these days and came with an idea to incorporate some MSU athletes with an anti-bullying message.

"I went and pitched it to Nate Christiansen (the marketing and sales director for MSU athletics) and it turns out he and athletic director Kevin Buisman had been kicking around a similar idea. They kind of let me run with it and we eventually came up with the Mavericks Stand Up campaign."

Mavericks Stand Up turned out to be about a half-hour presentation offered to fifth graders in Mankato. It consists of a short anti-bullying talk by Walter with a slide show, a brief video, a testimonial by an MSU athlete and then a skit which included some of the fifth-graders in attendance. Stomper, the Maverick mascot, was also included.

"We ended up bringing the presentation to Kennedy, Jefferson and Rosa Parks elementary schools," Walter said. "I think it went over pretty well. The kids seem to respond to it."

The MSU athlete turned out to be women's soccer player Courtney Vallarelli. She's short in stature so had some first-hand dealings with bullying growing up.

"Actually, Nate found her," Walter said. "He was looking for somebody pursuing an elementary education major and Courtney fit the bill. It was practical experience for her, too, working with the fifth-graders."

As most have been made aware by now, bullying is not simply thought of as physical confrontation between boys in a school yard anymore. Verbal abuse is also considered a form of bullying and both Walter and Vallarelli know it is fairly common among girls.

"There's a real social side to it," she said. "You don't see the physical aspect so much but you have rumors and gossip that can be very hurtful. The goal of the program is to make kids aware of it, learn how to stop it and to try to prevent bullying from happening in the future.

"I think the whole thing was really positive. It was cool to see how the kids responded to what I was saying. The more you open up to them the more they're willing to share their stories, too."

At the conclusion of the presentation, kids were asked to sign an anti-bullying pledge poster. As a reward they received an orange wrist band and a ticket to a future MSU athletic event.

The final presentation for this semester was Friday at Rosa Parks Elementary. Fifth-grade teachers Christine Woodside and Susan Levandowski both saw it as a worthwhile project.

Woodside said she could see the students were engaged.

"They were actively participating in the discussion by answering questions and were attentive," she said. "Even though it is a topic they have heard about many times before, they seemed interested. I liked that they got a few students involved in the skit."

Both teachers had discussions with their classes after the presentation was over and Levandowski believes it had merit.

"The presentation reinforced our health curriculum at Rosa Parks," Levandowski said. "By having a student athlete and Stomper involved the students were very enthusiastic."

Sometimes when great minds -- or at least well-meaning minds -- think alike, good things can happen.