Just because you may be a bully on the ice, doesn't mean you have to be one off of it.
That's the message University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds defenceman Ben Shutron is trying to send to kids as across New Brunswick.
Shutron, a fifth-year veteran and two-time University Cup champion, has been working alongside the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) to help prevent bullying in schools across the province.
"I read an article in a local newspaper about a child who was being homeschooled because he didn't feel safe at school," Shutron said. "That just kind of sparked me to try and get involved and try to help a problem like that."
Shutron started by filming webinars on self-confidence in schools and the importance of extra-curricular activities, and sending the message of "treat others how you'd like to be treated."
Bruce Van Stone is a
Learning Specialist for bullying awareness and prevention with the DEECD, and has been working directly with Shutron to get the message out there and promote healthy relationships. He said having a local figure like Shutron alongside him is a great way to give kids a role model to look up to.
"He's talked about the need for athletes to be role models and not set themselves apart from other people in the school," Van Stone said. "Because of course there's a popularity thing where athletes get treated differently by different people, and sometimes put up on a pedestal.
"But he's always talking about 'No, I'm a human being first and hockey player second,' and working with other athletes around 'Hey, you know what? You have a great skill and that's wonderful and you should be proud of it, but you need to lead by example in a positive way.' "
Shutron said he wasn't quite sure what to talk about when he was first asked to speak to a group of teachers, students and guidance counsellors at a "Healthy Committee Meeting" for the province. His speech prompted an invitation to speak at a school in Miramichi – regretfully, he couldn't attend.
"I was nervous and I hadn't done anything like that, but it was the morning after we got our championship ring," Shutron said. "So I brought in my ring and showed them and talked about the things you can achieve when you work as a team as opposed to working alone."
In his talk, Shutron compared schools and classrooms to a hockey team, where the teacher is the coach and they have the leaders in the classroom like captains on a team. He explained how, just like a hockey team, it's important to establish a positive culture and welcoming environment.
"On our team, kids have come from all across Canada to work together. Some of us are French, some are English, some are a different race," Shutron said. "But we've all come to appreciate each other for everyone's differences and we've worked together to accomplish some great things. So why can't that happen in classrooms? The education experience should be a fun one. Everyone should be entitled to that."
Admittedly, Shutron was a bully in elementary school, but as he grew up and matured he turned a new leaf, and stuck to the phrase "treat others like you want to be treated." He said the key for athletes, well, is to not distinguish themselves like athletes among their peers.
"There's a lot of athletes that think they can get by on just getting by on their sports, but it's very important that when you're an athlete at a school to try and fit in as a student too," Shutron said. "When I was growing up, I didn't wear the sport jacket as much at school. I tried to just wear regular attire and be known as Ben Shutron the student as opposed to Ben Shutron the hockey player."
Nick Murray for UNB Sports Information
Photo Credit: Rob Blanchard