Article by Tia Jones | Photography by Nick Rynes | Owl Staff

Anticipating a jaw-dropping performance, thousands of fans roar in the brightly lit venue. Hundreds of competitors from around the world are in attendance while ESPN cameras pan from left to right, capturing every moment – both minuscule and enormous.

Maryland F5 is a 35 member, all girl, all-star cheerleading team. This was my team, and to be a part of such a prestigious organization often brought overwhelming feelings of joy and relevance…though, this feeling of importance did not always exist.

In fact, I often flash back to the time that I believed I was nothing more than a mental and physical punching bag. BOOM! The sound is heard as my forehead hits the hard, chipped wooden desk. I leave my head down as it began to throb, roaring laughter spreads across the room like an oil spill in a body of water.

I then begin to pray that I will no longer have to endure such pain. As I gain the courage to slowly lift my head back up… BOOM! I feel the same hand once again, forcing my head down, face first toward the splintered wood desk, hitting my head in the same location.

My days in middle school were nothing short of awful. Not only did things similar to the desk incident occur almost daily, but name-calling and non-stop mental abuse also became commonplace. It made me feel so small and unworthy of anything positive.

The hatred that was shown towards me made me hate myself. These ill feelings I had for myself were prevalent and had a detrimental effect on my life. If it wasn’t for sports, I know I would still be suffering from such effects.

Through sports I found family, formed everlasting bonds, cultivated nonverbal expression, respect, a stress release, pertinent social skills, and most importantly, I learned to value and love myself again. I honestly do not know how I would have been able to overcome the plagued mentality that was beaten into me by bullies if I had not dared to explore and find where I could excel.

HCC Business major Larry Roscoe had a similar experience with his sports team. “Honestly, without sports I wouldn’t have graduated from high school.” He adds, “I would probably be doing nothing with my life and I would be extremely unmotivated. Sports push me to come to school every day, and to want to do well.”

I was able to convert negativity into positive energy with sports. Through envisioning everything I knew I was capable of, when any one of the bullies attempted to bring me down, they no longer had the power.

I’m not the only one who has won the battle of bullying with sports. Eighteen-time Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps, was also able to turn the tables on his childhood bullies. In an interview with Yahoo Sports, he explains how he was the object of scorn and torment by bullies in middle school.

The physical and mental abuse ceased for Phelps soon after he made his first Olympic team at fifteen. He shares a story about how one of his former bullies approached him, attempting to become friends and how he pretended to not recognize him. Phelps now finds himself amused by the memories that once frustrated him.

Statistics show that sports have a prevalent effect on bullying. According to a recent study by Playworks (a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate active recess programs in schools across the country), schools implementing these recess programs reported an 79% decrease in bullying incidents and an 68% decrease in disruptive events in the classroom.

“I was able to convert negativity into positive energy with sports. Through envisioning everything I knew I was capable of, when any one of the bullies attempted to bring me down, they no longer had the power.”

Bullying is becoming more visible and it is increasing within today’s society. states that 160,000 kids in our country stay home every day, due to bullying. According to a meta-study led by Melissa Holt, a Behavioral Scientist and assistant professor of psychology counseling at Boston University, “[For] kids who were bully-victims, suicidal thoughts or behavior were about four times more likely than for the kids who were uninvolved in bullying.”

Thanks to sports, I now have the strong mindset needed in order to tackle bullying and prevent it when I witness it happening to others. Now when I close my eyes and see myself being presented with a gold medal, I imagine the podium being all of the insults, abuse, and bullies themselves underneath of me.

I am finally bigger than my adversity; I am a winner.

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