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‘Coaching Boys to Men’ program looks to prevent sexual violence

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RHINELANDER, Wis. (WAOW)-- While spring student athletes at Rhinelander High School prepare for their season, they'll also be part of a new 12 week program that won't only teach them about healthy relationship skills but how to also cultivate mutual respect.

Called 'Coaching Boys into Men,' the program is between the school and the Oneida County Health Department.

"Coaching Boys into Men is just step one, it's the first thing that we're setting out to do here and so often in public health and primary prevention here we start with youth," said Maria Otterholt, Community Health Specialist with the Oneida County Health Department.

Studies show that 1-in-3 teens report knowing a friend or a peer who has been physically hurt by a partner.

Over the next 5 years the program hopes to change that.

"So we want to start with individuals when they're young, start having these conversations, open up the door to real good communication here and them transform their lives as they move forward," Otterholt said.

Officials say the plan is to have the program grow to all sports, and also empower female athletes to recognize abusive relationships.

"They will be learning the same exact concepts just again with those different learning styles so that it really fits everyone where they are at in their life," Otterholt said.

When the program wraps up this spring, organizers will take feedback from both athletes and coaches in hopes of making it even stronger.

"We're hoping that all of this can shape the Northwoods here in Wisconsin and just make all of our communities come together and be better for one another," said Brian Paulson, Activities Director at Rhinelander High School.

School officials say this will send a positive message but want parents to know they will have the choice to opt their kids out of the program if they don't want them in it.