Members of the Toronto Argonauts stopped by East York Collegiate Institute recently to talk with students about bullying, and how to deal with it.
Offensive guard Joe Eppele and Jason Colero, director of The Argos Foundation and education programs, spoke to the school’s Grade 9 and 10 students, sharing their experiences with bullying as part of the Argonauts Huddle Up Bullying Prevention program.
Helping enforce the message, five of the school’s Grade 12 students, the Huddle Up committee, also spoke about how to safely handle bullying.
As well as talking about being both bullied and a bully at times during his youth, Eppele shared with the students how he almost lost his brother, after his brother took an overdose of pills to escape the pain of being bullied. The powerful speech, during which Eppele had to stop once to compose himself, seemed to hit home with the students.
Grade 9 student Hanna Girndt admitted the speech brought her to tears.
“It was very moving,” she said, adding hearing Eppele and Colero’s stories showed bullying can happen to anyone, and can be overcome.
“They’re both from the Toronto Argonauts, and they have sort of the same story, so I thought that was cool, and it shows how bullying is more common than people think it is. I think a lot of people might be going through this, even though they don’t show it.”
The event’s message was loud and clear, when you see bullying, don’t stand by, stand up.
“Everybody knows when somebody’s being bullied, they just choose to not see it,” Colero said.
“It’s happening to people as we speak, so don’t sit there and hope that they get help, be the one who gets them the help, be the one that speaks up.”
The presenters did not sugar coat their message, using harsh realities to explain the effects of bullying, which Eppele noted is a much larger issue now, due to the Internet.
“Before you could escape from it. Whereas now, social media is such a large part of your life, once someone goes on and starts bullying and taking over that aspect of your life, it’s something you’ll never escape. There’s no turn-off point,” he said. “I definitely think it’s caused the problem to increase in severity.”
During the presentation, the Huddle Up committee engaged students with an interactive skit, where an actress planted in the crowd bullied another actress on stage as if trying to start a fight. The skit showed different ways of handling the situation, both productive and non-productive, asking students to raise their hands if they had witnessed the scenarios. While most admitted seeing bullying end in physical abuse, only a scarce few, less than 10 students, admitted they had witnessed a similar situation end without violence.
Alisha Hobson, committee chair, was pleased with students’ reaction to the presentation.
“I know we’re not going to reach everyone, but I really hope we reached out to a couple of people, and to a couple of victims and bullies,” she said, before giving advice for victims of bullying.
“Reach out, as hard as it is to reach out, you’ve just got to tell someone that you trust,” she said. “You can’t just let it all ball up inside.”
Eppele shared the same message.
“Don’t be afraid to get help,” he encouraged. “You’re not the only one who’s gone through it, and you won’t be the last, and suffering in silence only compounds the issue. It’s not something that should be faced alone.”
For bullying information and help, visit www.kidshelpphone.ca or call 1-800-668-6868. Visit www.argonauts.ca/page/huddleup for more information on the Huddle Up program.