When the Michigan volleyball team walked onto the court at Crisler Center on Saturday night, its focus was on blocking not only Nebraska’s attack, but also on blocking out bullying.
Fans were invited to watch the Wolverines take on the Cornhuskers in support of bullying prevention at the annual Block Out Bullying game, an event started at the University four years ago. Between sets and during timeouts, videos of various Michigan athletes and coaches played on the jumbotron addressing their support for the campaign.
“Here (at Michigan), we are truly the epitome of great students and great athletes,” said Michigan sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Knop. “I think when the message comes from a kid who plays volleyball at the University of Michigan, or the message of Block Out Bullying comes from a student-athlete, it is very impactful.”
Prior to the Block Out Bullying match, the team took time to make a direct difference in the Ann Arbor community. The players visited five local elementary and middle schools this season, speaking to over 500 kids on their own experiences with bullying and how to handle bullies.
“We try to instill a mindset of ‘You can change something,’ or ‘You can help someone,’ and that if you are being bullied that you can go talk to somebody about it,” Knop said.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen, along with his wife — associate head coach Leisa Rosen — began the tradition. With two kids of their own, the duo saw bullying occur in local primary schools firsthand, and they felt the cause was something the volleyball team could specifically impact.
Since the campaign’s origin four years ago, it has evolved into a well-planned, highly influential operation. Working hand in hand with the Ann Arbor School District, the Michigan coaches worked on the Block Out Bullying curriculum to ensure a consistent message and language to what they were teaching.
And apparently, the message has worked. During a team visit to one of the schools, the principal made sure to tell the Wolverines about the recent improvement seen in students’ behavior in relation to combating bullies.
“It was amazing how polite the kids were, and how attentive they were and really how interactive they were,” Mark Rosen said. “They were into it.”
The players have been into it as well. Sharing their own stories, the athletes hope to show the younger students that they were once in their place.
Junior middle blocker Abby Cole’s story, according to Rosen, has been extremely influential to the kids she speaks to.
“(Abby’s) bigger than life,” Mark Rosen said. “She’s a great athlete, she’s beautiful, she’s smart — who would think that that girl’s ever been bullied? Think about when she was in eighth grade and she was already (6-foot-5), though. You’re a little awkward, and you’re probably not going to get positive attention for that. She experienced it firsthand.”
The Wolverines fell to the Cornhuskers 3-1 on Saturday, but despite the loss, the team still considers what it was able to do off the court its biggest success.