When the boys of the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City high school football team lip-synced a song to show support for women and girls, they garnered more attention than they expected — starting a small trend and getting a note of approval from Vice President Joe Biden.
At the direction of their head coach, David Blom, the team made a video choreographed to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” this fall, another in the coach’s string of unconventional exercises aiming to teach his players life lessons.
The video got the attention of Melissa Scaia, executive director of Duluth’s international-award-winning Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. While Scaia was at a meeting with some of the vice president’s staff in Washington, D.C., in late September, she showed the video to the White House adviser on violence against women.
The adviser issued a challenge to more Minnesota high schools to follow suit, Scaia said.
So Scaia, who is also director of Advocates for Family Peace, put out the call for interested coaches and teams through word of mouth. She volunteered to help choreograph and get them filmed over several weeks.
First up was the football team in Hibbing. Scaia thought maybe 20 percent of the team members would be enthusiastic, and she figured she’d have to do her best to coax the other 80 percent along.
“I was delightfully wrong: 95 percent of them were totally into it,” she said. “The other 5 percent were just shy.”
Hibbing athletic director Meghan Potter said the school is doing a lot to promote a positive culture, and she “couldn’t be more proud” of the teams for making the videos.
After Hibbing came the Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin football team along with its cheerleading squad, then the Hibbing-Chisholm soccer team.
Scaia used some of the videos to help raise funds for victims of domestic violence and child abuse in northern Minnesota with an online contest in which people could donate $1 to cast their votes for a favorite.
Since then, several winter sports teams have committed to making videos, too, she said.
In Greenway, the students were “very enthusiastic and excited about doing it,” high school Principal Jeff Britten said. Football players understand how their sport sometimes gets equated with violence, he said.
“They want people to be aware of, that’s not what we’re about and that’s not always what football is about,” Britten said. “Sometimes you stumble upon a way to send that message, and this is such a great way with where kids are at today.”
Scaia sent three videos to Washington and last week, she said, the schools were sent letters of encouragement from Biden.
“I’ve recently heard about all you’ve been doing to help combat domestic violence and sexual assault, and I wanted to send you and your team a brief note to encourage you all to keep up the great work,” the letter to Blom said. “I am confident that your videos will go a long way in changing attitudes and raising awareness. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed, and you should be proud.”
Blom said it was heartening for his team to see their video catch on. He’s planning to frame the letter.
“I had no anticipation of getting any attention like this,” he said.
With football season over, Blom is already thinking about unusual lessons for next year, he said. “But I’ll keep it quiet until it happens.”