There were about two dozen University of Massachusetts women’s lacrosse players on the field at McGuirk Alumni Stadium yesterday afternoon – clad in all of the typical attire they would wear to a pre-season practice. They had all of their usual playing equipment with them, too – and they jockeyed their lacrosse balls back and forth and maneuvered around the field.
But for a few moments at yesterday’s practice, members of the squad took respite to help deliver a unified message: bullying needs to stop.
They, along with other students and athletes at UMass, participated yesterday in a campaign put together by the ABC TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” that strives to curb bullying. The show, which travels around the country to build new homes in a week for families with compelling stories, is in the greater Pioneer Valley area this week to build a home for the family of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Springfield boy who hanged himself in 2009 after enduring severe bullying.
“We’re just getting the word out and trying to get people to stand together and get the message out about anti-bullying,” said Michael Moloney, one of the show’s cast members who arrived at UMass yesterday with crew members to canvass the campus and get students to go on camera and advocate against bullying.
The show, Moloney said, is trying to roundup thousands of people to speak against bullying over the next few days. Crew members will head to Boston sometime later this week and will try to recruit the help of some of the city’s professional sports teams in their campaign.
“We’re trying to get anyone we can,” said Moloney. “Everyone we’ve asked has said, ‘Yes, we want to be a part of it.’ And it’s been very well so far.”
The portraits and sound bites that the crew collects over the next few days will be packaged into a story and video which will air during the broadcast of the episode featuring Walker-Hoover’s family. Construction crews started building a new home for the family Monday and will work around the clock for the next week until the project is complete.
“It was a very emotional day for them, because it really brought home the fact that their 11-year-old boy wasn’t there,” Moloney said of Hoover-Walker’s family. “And this was one of his favorite shows ever. He always wanted it for his family, so it’s sort of bittersweet that it happened now.”
The show, which is entering its ninth season, receives about 5,000 applications a week from those who request assistance for friends and colleagues, Moloney said. Since its inception, the series has featured about 200 families who have received new homes.
Yesterday’s events at UMass and the show’s campaign are focused on broadening the Hoover-Walkers’ story to promote the message that bullying is a prevalent issue and anti-bullying efforts need to be ramped up in schools across the land.
To emphasize their message, each of the women’s lacrosse team players who participated in the campaign yesterday held up signs – each numbered to reflect their added individual contribution to a greater effort – in front of a camera and recited a message in unison announcing their stand against bullying and with Walker-Hoover’s family. One of the team members, junior Lauren Terracciano, also shared on camera a story of her personal experience with bullying.
Terracciano told of how she was bullied in school when she was younger because of her height. And while she was able to overcome the taunting and bullying, Terracciano said that she hopes the message she and others delivered in the campaign will help to mitigate the practice.
“They’re trying to just cut down the number of the people who are bullied, and I think that’s a great thing,” said Terracciano.
John Sinnett, the interim director for media relations for UMass Athletics, observed that yesterday’s participants – the women’s lacrosse team, as well as representatives from other athletic teams and university students – are particularly well-suited to deliver such a message.
“They’re a good group of people and they know what the cause is,” said Sinnett, who noted that the student body at UMass is representative of what students at colleges across the country would say. “No one should have to go through life feeling inferior or like they’re not as good as they can be in someone else’s eyes. And so all of these girls know that and they definitely get the message and they want to help.”
In addition to the members of the women’s lacrosse team, members of the men’s basketball team, the running club and other students at the University participated in yesterday’s campaign on campus, which was put together sometime earlier that day.
“It was a team effort. A lot of people on campus pitched in to get this together,” said UMass spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons, who helped organize the travels of the crew members working on the campaign.
Members of the show’s production crew who were present on campus said they were barred from commenting to the media about the campaign and show – and only the show’s executive producer could speak to the press. The producer – who was not at UMass but was in Springfield yesterday – did not return a message last night.
Moloney said that the primary message the campaign aims to ingrain in everyone is that the excessive bullying that occurs in some places has to come to an end.
“It’s rampant and it’s got to stop,” he said.
William Perkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.