By Jimmy Robertson
When Mike Young returned to the New River Valley as the coach of the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team, he found himself nearly overwhelmed with hiring a staff, putting together a roster, recruiting, scouting, scheduling, and game planning, as the Hokies embarked on his inaugural 2019-20 season.
The COVID-19 pandemic lightened this summer’s workload, however, as the NCAA extended its dead period through the end of the year, thus eliminating any in-person contact with recruits. But Young decided to use the bonus time to do something he always has wanted to do – help people, and specifically, the people of Southwest Virginia.
Last week, Young launched a non-profit organization designed to target bullying in public schools. Calling it “MY TURN,” he wants to bring attention and awareness to bullying in schools, as well as prevention tactics to those schools and the local community.
For Young, the subject of bullying hits a little closer than maybe to the average person. Numerous family members work in education, and he hears the stories with regularity. That prompted the idea of forming a foundation to address the topic.
“I come from a family of educators,” Young said. “My dad was a 25-year middle school principal. My mom was a longtime elementary school secretary. Everybody in my family – grandmother, everybody – have been educators, and I know that [bullying] was a real sore spot for them. They wanted each child to have the opportunity to go to school in a great environment and wanted them to have the opportunity to learn and meet new friends and express themselves as young people without the worry of something negative happening during the course of the school year. I thought this would be a great opportunity to hopefully address that, and I certainly hope that we can help young people here in Montgomery County and in this region.”
In particular, Young’s father, Bob, served as his primary motivating force in nearly all aspects of his life. Bob Young passed away at the age of 83 this past March, but he spent years mentoring young kids as a principal at Dalton Intermediate School in nearby Radford and also as an official of high school and recreation league football games.
Young remembers well a conversation that he had with his dad about bullying right before he passed.
“He said, ‘I started my career as a teacher and a coach at Dublin High School back in the 60s, and nothing has changed. If anything has changed, it’s become more rampant and more prevalent,'” Young said. “I didn’t talk to him about starting a foundation or anything like that. I do remember for years those conversations between myself and my dad. My uncle, Norm Lineburg, those discussions, and how that can happen in locker rooms and certainly school buildings, and again, I just wanted to do something that might be of aid to young people here in the NRV [New River Valley].”
Young wanted to launch his anti-bullying organization several months ago, but the pandemic altered those plans largely because it forced the closure of public schools in March. Local schools re-opened in late August and early September, and nearly all of those operate in a “hybrid” model, with kids attending classes only on certain days of the week and at certain times, while also taking certain classes online. School officials probably will continue with this model until at least after the first of the year, and probably longer.
So numerous kids aren’t in schools with regularity, and school officials won’t allow outside visitors anyway. That limits Young’s ability to address kids, teachers and administrators in a face-to-face manner and directly impact them.
“We’ll get there,” Young said. “The virus has had something to do with the delayed start, but we’re moving in a positive direction. I’m confident in that.”
Young and his staff continue to iron out the details of what he wants to do and the frequency of which he wants to do it, but rest assured, he wants his players involved to the extent that they want to be involved. Already, a group that included Hunter Cattoor, Nahiem Alleyne and John Ojiako read a book to elementary school students via Zoom.
Young knows that his players’ buy-in is important for the organization’s success. The players are closer in age to elementary, middle, and high school students, so they understand that daily challenges that those groups of kids face.
“Those guys are a terrific resource,” Young said of his players. “They’ve lived it, and they’re much closer in age to the people that we’ll be presenting to, and I want those guys as involved as much as I can have them involved with their class schedules and other considerations in mind. But yeah, they’ll be heavily involved, and they’ll be terrific for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Ultimately, Young wants to make a difference and change the mindset of today’s youth. According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, one in five kids reports being bullied, and more than 40% of those kids expect it to happen again. The effects of bullying can be devastating – depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic standards, and dropping out of school.
Fittingly, Young launched his organization in October, which is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.
“We all deserve the right to feel great about ourselves,” Young said. “We all should have the opportunity to enjoy going to school every day in an environment we’re excited about, one where we’re surrounded by friends, and we have the opportunity to do our best work – to do what we’re supposed to be doing, and that is learning. When we’re in an environment in which we feel good about ourselves, we have an opportunity to do that.”
(For more on Mike Young‘s non-profit organization MY TURN, please check out his website: https://www.myturnvt.com/)
By Jimmy Robertson