If Shawn Williams can be bullied, anybody can.
The Ottawa 67's director of business and community development stands almost 6-foot-4 and weighs more than 300 lbs., and he's had what many would think to be the luxury of being larger than most of his peers all his life.
Yet yesterday, Williams told students at Century Public School in Nepean of a time long ago that still haunts him; back when he used to take a mental beating from his Grade 2 classmates at an elementary school on Vancouver Island.
"There was a forest at the edge of the schoolyard I used to hide in," said Williams, pointing out that bullying isn't just a form of physical abuse. "It was torturous to go into school ... the kids used to tease me because I was the biggest kid in the class. That was 35 years ago, and I still think about that.
"You can scrape or bruise your knee, and it will heal quickly. But scars on your heart stick around for a long time. So before you say something to somebody, stop and think about how you would feel inside if they said it to you."
That was one of the messages passed along by Williams and defenceman Brad Staubitz and Nick Van Herpt on the latest stop of the 67's Champions for Education program, a brainchild of team owner Jeff Hunt that is now five years old.
Each hockey season, Williams and a couple of players will visit different schools two or three times a week. In total, they'll speak at more than 40 schools a year, touching more than 15,000 students.
Schools like the always-"enthusiastic" Century Public have the 67's back for repeat visits.
MAKING POM POMS
"It's an effective tool," said Sherrie Guthrie, a teacher who plays a little hockey herself. "We'll start making pom poms and posters weeks in advance ... they'll take the posters to the games. It's a very positive thing for our school."
The 67's point out to the children many of the "similarities" between hockey and school.
"Listening is very important at the rink ... you have to listen to your coaches just like you have to listen to your teachers," said Staubitz, a 20-year-old obtained earlier this month in a trade with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. "You can always learn something new.
"The coach yells only when you're not listening. Practice is like a classroom for us. When it comes to game time, you're prepared, just like when you show up for a test and have to be prepared."
Van Herpt spoke about the importance of working together.
"You have to help each other out," he said. "In hockey, if somebody isn't pulling their weight, the other team could have a chance to score. If somebody is not pulling their weight in a class project, you might not hit the mark you could hit ... you might fail."
Van Herpt also shared with the students a story that illustrated why it's important never to give up.
A road trip to Oshawa earlier this season took three hours longer than usual because of poor weather conditions, and by the time the 67's arrived, they were rushed into getting ready for game time. By the end of the first period they were down 3-0, but ultimately regrouped and wound up with a 6-6 tie.
"We could have easily quit, but we didn't," he said. "It's the same with you guys. If you don't have a good first term, don't give up."