Joining forces to make a difference

LATROBE, Pa. - Respect. Integrity. Nonviolence.

Those three principles alone speak volumes, but when combined together as a mission statement, they are beyond powerful.

"You can put those three components in any situation you are facing," said William Gay. "If you just stick to those guidelines, I think you will be all right in life."

Those three things are among the lessons coaches in high school and college are sharing with their athletes as a part of Coaching Boys Into Men, a program in conjunction with the United Way that trains and motivates high school coaches to teach their young male athletes healthy relationship skills and that violence never equals strength.

The Steelers hosted a clinic for area coaches at Saint Vincent College on Wednesday, and Gay was happy to see the team take such an active role. He understands better than anyone the impact of domestic violence. His mother, Carolyn Hall, was killed by his stepfather in a brutal act of domestic violence when Gay was only eight years old. He has become an advocate for victims of domestic violence, and understands the importance of educating young men to steer them in the right direction.

"We are an organization that is looked upon by everybody," said Gay. "Why not touch on an issue that is a problem in the world and get involved and do the best that we can in order to help stop domestic violence and sexual assault.

"This age is where it starts. The guys are young and exposed to a lot of social media. We try to do everything we can as far as who these kids look up to, which is their coaches. You teach the coaches to teach the players, and hopefully that trend stops domestic violence.

"You have a lot of guys who grew up fatherless. The next best thing is your sports coach. That is the closest thing you have to a father. You look up to them. If they are saying positive things, and giving you a positive light on situations you may or may not go through, they give you the tools and you trust them. They are the key people in athlete's lives."

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert was among those who spoke at the clinic, and thinks it's important the team is involved in these types of programs.

"It's such an important issue, not only in our game but in the world in general," said Colbert. "We always have to be aware of such issues. Our main concern is making sure our players are in compliance, and if they are then they can be a good example for others."

Coaches are provided topics each week to talk to their players about, highlighting important factors to help steer them in the right direction.

"It's giving a coach a set of conversation topics around some of the societal issues directly related to how to treat your partner," said Steelers coaching assistant Danny Rooney, who has been involved with the program. "The coach has a forum where they will sit down with their team, bring up a topic. Domestic violence is pretty heavily involved in that topic of conversation.  It's more of a formal setting rather than try to mentor on the run. It's part of the curriculum of coaching."

Rooney, who played college football, thinks reaching high school level athletes is the perfect starting point.

"It starts the conversation," said Rooney. "At that age, depending on family situation, the next person you are going to look up to and seek guidance from is a coach. Sometimes coaches are uncomfortable diving into personal lives, but at the high school level this gives them a curriculum to do so."

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