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ST. GEORGE — In a week-long effort to fight against bullying, Friday was deemed "Be a friend Friday." One program for southern Utah athletes has taken that motto to heart.
The program is Student Athletes Against Bullying (SAAB) and it has been implemented throughout several St. George middle schools.
"Everyone's always trying to make the world a better place," said advisor and coach Ali'i Alo. "And starting with out future, these kids, teaching them, it goes a long way."
As a longtime coach, Alo knows kids. He knows what they value and how to motivate them, and he had an idea to combat bullying in local schools: Instead of using discipline or training, he challenged his athletes to fight against bullying.
"It's empowering our young youth and teaching them life skills, giving them an opportunity to give back," Alo said, "in another way, a good way."
His method of training was to encourage the kids to reach out to their classmates. He wanted the athletes to stand up for what is right when they saw something bad happening. Coach Alo also encouraged his athletes to include kids that are outcasts.
Alo created a council of student athletes to lead the anti-bullying campaign.
"Some kids sit alone, but you always have to make an effort to go and sit with them," said student athlete Nephi Sewell.
The student athletes have also made friends with the students they have reached out to include.
"You start talking to them and you find out they're a really cool person," said student Madz Eames. "Just 'cause they're sitting by themselves doesn't mean that they're some person that's not cool."
The anti-bullying initiative has also taught the athletes that bullying can be stopped when enough students fight against it.
"People start to realize that bullying isn't cool," Eames said. "And the bullies stop and the people who are being bullied stop getting hurt."
Sixty student athletes have signed on and joined SAAB, and they continue to go into their own schools and recruit other kids. The movement is still spreading.
"There is just so much strength in numbers," Eames said. "And as we continue to grow, bullying will get less and less in our schools."