BANGOR, Maine — The schoolchildren at Abraham Lincoln School know about their ABCs, and the anti-bullying message that Harlem Globetrotter Scooter Christensen delivered Wednesday was presented the same way.
“The ABCs of Bullying Prevention” is a community outreach program designed by the Globetrotters in conjunction with the National Campaign to Stop Violence and set up for 6- to 12-year-olds. Abraham Lincoln School includes students up through third grade.
“We go to over 100, maybe 200, schools a year,” said Christensen, who added he had done three presentations in Portland.
He is only one of the players who visits schools, and he enjoys doing it.
“This is the best part of my day,” he said with a big smile.
The Globetrotters are an internationally renowned group of basketball players that display skills, stunts and comedic routines at games around the world.
The team’s next stop in Bangor is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bangor Auditorium, followed by a swing through Maritime Canada before performing at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland at 2 p.m. March 24.
Christensen, a 6-foot-1-inch guard, started by introducing himself and recapping a little of his background, which includes holding two Guinness World Records — one for the length of time he spun a ball on his head and the other for the length of time he spent spinning it on his nose.
Both of those intrigued the students, and he demonstrated the skills for the kids, but Christensen was there for a different reason and he got right to it.
Christensen started by engaging the students in a clapping game in which he had them clap the number of times that he wanted and in unison. He offered a reward if they followed his directions perfectly, but then he included a half clap that makes no noise.
“Somebody claps every time,” he said with a smile afterward.
But the important point of the exercise was that they were listening to him.
That’s when Christensen started defining the program’s ABCs — action, bravery and compassion.
“Action is when you see something, you tell a teacher or the principal,” said Christensen.
He also told them not to be bothered if someone calls them a tattletale for doing it.
“With the Globetrotters, you’re never a tattletale if you’re helping somebody else,” he said.
He asked one of the children to help him demonstrate bravery by having her walk toward a teacher while ignoring him as he pretended to be talking loudly at her and gesturing, trying to get her to respond.
“My mother always said it takes a brave person to not say something at all,” Christensen said.
Compassion comes from consoling someone who has been bullied.
“If you bring positive energy into their life, it’ll take their mind off it,” he said.
He also stressed that if someone is bullying another person, it’s not appropriate to join in or stand by and do nothing.
He also broke up the session, and the crowd, by teaching five of the students and an adult basketball tricks like the Globetrotters use in their pregame sessions.
The adult in the group was chosen by the students — third-grade teacher Vanessa Viner.
“I was taken completely by surprise,” she said.
She admitted it had been a while since she had done anything related to basketball.
“But there were no baskets involved, so I was good to go,” she said.
Each participant was given a different trick and once they each had been shown it and practiced it once, they did it all together in a circular routine to the Globetrotters’ theme song, “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Viner wasn’t sure what her trick would be because Christensen had asked the kids if she should have a difficult one, to which they said yes.
He had Viner pass the ball around her body, push it out in front of her with both hands and flip it over her head where Christensen would grab it. To make it more difficult, he had her shake out a couple of dance moves to the left and again to the right.
“I think he took it easy on me,” Viner said, “because you open yourself to whatever happens.”
It was good enough for the kids, though, as they laughed excitedly.
“They said, ‘You’re welcome,’” when they all headed back to the classroom, she said.
Viner said that Christensen’s message was an important one for the kids. The staff at the school talks to the students about bullying, and his presentation supported their work.
“We want them to come to us,” she said. “It’s better to take care of it right then rather than two hours later.
“I really liked how he said it was not tattling, saying they’re being brave and telling them it’s OK to do that.”
Christensen said he understood the problem because he had been bullied, too.
“I had some of the issues these kids had when I was growing up,” he said.
He also thinks it might be important to help on the other side.
“Maybe we need to get help for the bully,” he said. “Maybe they need some love. We need to focus on that, too.”
He said the key to stop bullying is support.
“Friends are the biggest influence of a kid,” he said.