As the head football coach at Foxcroft Academy, Paul Withee has been quite successful channeling the aggression of his players — winning three state championships and seven Eastern Maine Class C titles during his 19 years on the sidelines.
But off the field he has been working to channel aggression of a different, more evil sort by bringing increased public awareness to the issue of domestic violence.
His football teams have raised more than $1,000 each year for the last eight years through their participation in an annual road race to benefit Womancare, a local community-based organization working to end domestic violence.
More recently, through that relationship and participation in A Call to Men, a national movement of men committed to ending all forms of violence against women, Withee has been active in organizing a special event at his school to focus attention on the topic.
Next Thursday students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to wear white T-shirts to symbolize support for the White Ribbon Campaign, pledging never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
Those who participate in White T-Shirt Day will receive a white ribbon to wear on Feb. 14 during White Ribbon Day — an observance created in Canada in 1991 on the second anniversary of the massacre of 14 women at a Montreal college — in an effort to urge others to speak out against violence against women.
The first White T-Shirt Day at Foxcroft was held last February in conjunction with Teen Dating Violence Awareness Week. Half the student population — mostly males — signed a banner committing them to the cause.
“It’s something that’s important to me, and I thought that in my position I could have a positive influence on the students,” said Withee. “We teach aggressiveness in football, but once you step off the football field, it’s a different story, and we want to develop not only good football players but good, quality people.”
Withee became interested in domestic violence awareness through conversations with Chris Almy, the district attorney for Piscataquis and Penobscot counties and also a former assistant football coach at Foxcroft.
He quickly saw the value in bringing the subject to his players — understanding that high school is where many adolescents have their first dating experiences.
Withee is optimistic the message that domestic violence can’t be tolerated is getting through to his students via activities like the annual road race fundraiser and White T-Shirt Day.
“I still see some situations where relationships are not very healthy,” said Withee, “but I think the kids are more aware of what is appropriate in a relationship and what is not appropriate.”
Now Withee would like to help expand the White T-Shirt Day/White Ribbon Campaign throughout Maine and beyond.
He introduced the concept to fellow LTC football coaches during their annual postseason meeting, and he’s hopeful other schools will pick up the campaign as a way of educating students about a topic he sees as just as important as any subject found in a textbook.
“It can be other schools, but I’d like to see workplaces, businesses and schools all get involved,” he said.
And the dreamer in Paul Withee has an even larger goal.
“I’d like someday to write a letter to Washington, D.C.,” he said, “and have a national domestic violence awareness day established.”