- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) - To a soundtrack of upbeat music and screams from 930 of their peers, two girls tightly gripped opposite ends of a bar inside the gym Wednesday at Col. John Wheeler Middle School. A burly man in an orange jersey lifted the bar, hoisted the girls in the air and spun slowly in a circle.

It was a visual demonstration of how high their dreams could soar when they weren’t burdened by the weight of bullying and peer pressure.

The man in the jersey was retired NFL player William Green, who played for the Cleveland Browns. He and fellow retired NFL player Keith Davis, who was a linebacker for the New York Giants, led an anti-bullying presentation at Wheeler Wednesday morning and later at Taft Middle School.

The two are part of a group called the Winners Organization, whose members tour the world with motivational messages.

“We take an athletic platform to gather their attention and talk about some issues that you don’t normally hear athletes talk about,” Davis said. “You don’t normally hear athletes talk about, ‘I respect my wife,’ treating others as you want to be treated.”

Between feats of athleticism in the hour-long, high-energy assembly, the players used humor and real-life stories to emphasize respect and perseverance.

“When we speak, we try to bring up hope in a lot of different areas,” Davis said. “You’ve got hundreds of kids so there’s a gamut of different things going on.”

Davis talked about overcoming academic challenges. He was in 19 different schools by the time he reached 10th grade, and his reading skills were weak. By the time he graduated from the University of Southern California, where he played football, he had the highest grade point average among the athletes, he said.

Kim Doolin, a facilitator with the Creating Safe Schools program who booked the assembly, said she hoped students were inspired by the message.

“Just because of where you’re at today doesn’t mean you can’t change your tomorrow,” she said.

Green emphasized that message, talking about how he was bullied as a preteen when his parents both died of AIDS. He got made fun of for his clothes because his parents weren’t there to buy him new things. He lashed out.

“I was hurt, I was being bullied, I was being picked on,” Green said. “I decided one day that maybe if I picked on other kids the way they picked on me, maybe it would make me feel good.”

He later realized he was in pain, so he hurt others.

“We’re here to talk about bullying, treating people the way you want to be treated. At that point in my life I wasn’t such a good guy. You know why? Hurt people hurt people.”

Green issued a challenge.

“If you’re one of those hurt people, challenge yourself,” he said. “I want you to challenge yourself and treat people kind. Say nice things about them. Treat them the way you want to be treated. That joy will come into your life and change your life.”

He found love and found what he and Davis call the “second half.” Even if people have a rough “first half,” they can turn things around and have a better second half, the two reiterated.

“You’re not born a winner or a loser,” Davis said. “You’re born a chooser. What size dream did you choose this morning?”

They shouted buzzwords and catchphrases for the children to carry with them after they left the bleachers that morning.

“Dream!” Davis shouted, prompting the children to shout it back. “Choices! Voices! Choose!” he shouted.

“I find a lot of kids don’t get to the great dream they have because they start hanging with the wrong crowd and they start making the wrong choices because they’re listening to the wrong voices,” Davis said.

“Push!” he shouted. “Push” stands for persevere until success happens, Davis explained. “Don’t quit! Get started!” he shouted.

___

Source: The (Munster) Times, http://bit.ly/1MtkknM

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