Sports

Coaching Boys Into Men Program Makes Promising Debut at BHS

Designed to educate male athletes on gender-based violence and consent, the program has created positive change in the mountain bike team, according to student athletes and coaches.

The 2020 sexual harm walkouts were a monumental moment in Berkeley High School’s (BHS) history. Many students hoped that it would be a turning point in policies, administrative measures, and the overall climate at BHS. While a lot has changed as a result of the massive student demonstrations, some demands remain unfulfilled. 

One such demand stated that all male identifying participants or coaches of sports teams implement the program Coaching Boys into Men (CBIM), a curriculum designed to educate male athletes on gender-based violence, consent, and toxic relationships. Jesse Mahler, a program specialist at Futures Without Violence, shone light on the reasoning behind its creation. “It was developed based upon the recognition that boys and men need to play a much more significant role in our whole country and in all of our communities to end gender-based violence, sexual harassment and sexual assault,” he said. 

So far, the mountain bike team is the first BHS club team to have implemented CBIM of their own accord, and they have seen inspiring results from the program. 

In the summer of 2020, a group of students approached the head coach, Nick Hoeper-Tomich, regarding their wish to have CBIM integrated into the mountain bike team practices. Hoeper-Tomich and other coaches communicated with Mahler and spent countless hours figuring out ways to implement the program on a co-ed team when it was designed for an all-male team. 

The product was a split program, where female and non-binary teammates would talk with each other in small groups following the curriculum of a program called Athletes As Leaders (AAL). AAL created a safe space for these students to share their stories and engage in conversation. Simultaneously, the male members would break off to have informative discussions with peers led by their coaches. 

These weekly discussions impacted the atmosphere of the team and changed the way riders interacted with one another. Nico Sundu, a junior in Academic Choice (AC), described the shift in the way his teammates would talk as the program was implemented. “In a lot of all-boy groups, the talking that would go on could be … sexual talking or offensive language, but I noticed that after CBIM, that definitely declined, it was a noticeable difference,” he said. 

This belief was also shared by coaches who were supervising the progress of the team. Elle Lichter, a volunteer coach for the team, spoke on the impact CBIM had on her group both during and after practice. “I had a couple of the boys tell me that their friends used derogatory words towards women and instead of laughing it off, they said, ‘That’s not funny. Let’s change the subject,’” she said. 

While these changes are small steps, they demonstrate the effect that the curriculum had on BHS athletes, and how it could impact the culture of BHS as a whole. 

In addition to a shift in conversation and language usage, some team members felt more comfortable once the programs were set in place. “In [AAL] I got really close with the students there, it was like I had a space where we could all share, and the larger community felt safer because we all knew that we were working on this together,” said Juniper Dorado, a junior in AC. She described how CBIM affected her, especially the final discussion where the whole team came together and listened to one another’s stories. “I did notice that some of the guys seemed to genuinely consider what we were saying, they seemed to have some realizations about things they didn’t know women went through. [It] was nice to feel listened to, to feel heard,” she said. 

The coaches of the team agreed that the impact of CBIM was surprising and substantial. “This was life changing for the kids and for us,” said Lichter. These conversations are not only important, but they are a direct way to move towards a safer world. “If there’s not an awareness … and until we start having these conversations amongst ourselves as men and boys, that violence won’t end,” said Mahler. 

After reflecting on the impact of the program, coaches and teammates alike recommend CBIM to other teams. “I really do hope that other BHS teams follow suit, follow our example, because it’s an ongoing issue and unless we all do it, it’s not going to have the impact that we want,” said Hoeper-Tomich. 

Others, like Lichter, feel these discussions are necessary. “If you have the opportunity to work with kids, I think you have the obligation to have open constructive conversations with them about how to be respectful to their peers and consent,” she said. BHS is currently working towards hiring a liaison specifically to work with BHS teams. 

For Mahler, the fight for a safe future for women and non-binary people is one that we all must participate in or face the consequences. “I think if we, not just Berkeley, but as a whole country, are going to be able to change our culture, and change our actions, then we need everyone. I think that for me, the underlying question is: what’s the cost of not [doing so]?” he said.

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