The Indiana Fever are prepared for a new season with a preseason game against the Washington Mystics Tuesday afternoon. The Fever lost to the Mystics 87-67, but scored a big victory against bullying two hours before tipoff.
The Fever hosted over 1,600 students from central Indiana at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the Choices for Champions education program. Research shows one-in-five of those kids have thought about suicide. Choices for Champions want to provide hope instead.
Fourth- through eighth-graders from about 15 schools shouted, “Freddy! Freddy!” The Indiana Fever mascot warmed up the crowd before Fever players Brian January and Erica Wheeler took the stage to encourage the students to live healthy lives and chase their dreams.
“I heard if you believe in yourself and you get good grades and stuff, that you can succeed in your dreams,” said Christel House Academy fourth-grader Tamila Wallace. “If you set goals for yourself then you can succeed in your dreams and become what you want to.”
But the Choices for Champions program hit hardest on bullying with retired mixed martial arts fighter and Indianapolis firefighter Chris “Lights Out” Lytle on stage for the main event. Lytle encouraged children who are bullied to seek immediate help.
“Don’t be embarrassed about it,” said Lytle. “You have to talk to parents, talk to friends. There’s strength in numbers. Try to talk to people about this and get somebody to help you.”
A father of four, Lytle travels as a motivational speaker. Since becoming a father to a child with autism, he now speaks at schools about the importance of acceptance and compassion to combat bullying. He has released a book Lights Out on Bullying.
“We’ve had some incidents happen where people got a hold of us later and told us where we made a difference in their life,” said Lytle. “People were contemplating hurting themselves and they talked with us and we got them some resources and they are in a better place now.”
“It’s a really big problem because some people might be bullied any place like at school or maybe in their neighborhood or something,” said Christel House Academy fourth-grader John Ragland. “Tell a teacher or an adult.”
Have Hope is a partnership between WTHR and Community Health Network to promote awareness and prevention of suicide in Indiana. Joan Reed is the Director of School-Based Services at Community Health Network. Reed led a game show with students on stage to help identify bullying and signs of a student who may be a victim of bullying.
“If they’ve changed their routine, if they’re not interested in things they used to be interested in, if they appear to be withdrawn, just not socializing as well – sometimes it comes out in more anger or anxiety,” said Reed.
The crowd got the message.
“When you are being bullied or see someone else being bullied, you should go get an adult or let another adult nearby know,” said Wallace. “It’s very important because if you don’t tell anyone, that could cause a suicide. It makes me feel sad that other people want to make other people feel sad.”
Also on stage Tuesday morning was Shelby, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever therapy dog.