Martha’s Vineyard Vineyard hockey team skates with a message

— Photo by Max Sherman

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. In support of the national initiative, players on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School ice hockey team will be sporting stickers on their helmets with the message, “End Domestic Violence,” and a powerful graphic image of support.

The stickers, designed by assistant hockey coach Max Sherman and Melissa Aldeborgh, feature a raised hand blocking a fist and a third, female hand flashing a peace sign. The graphic couples a focus on male involvement with a bystander approach to the problem of violence against women.

The hockey team’s awareness-raising effort is part of a larger campaign by the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) CONNECT to End Violence program intended to encourage community involvement in addressing a problem that is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, according to MVCS data — more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.

“The problem is finding better ways to engage with the community and build awareness initiatives,” CONNECT Program director Christina Costello said. “We want to engage kids with the effort.”

The message that Ms. Costello hopes to convey with the helmet stickers is that bystanders have a role to play. “We’re trying to encourage people to do something when they see some sort of violence without putting themselves at risk,” she said. “We encourage people to talk about it and not accept it.”

Last month, four members of the CONNECT staff participated in a training program at Northeastern University called Mentors in Violence Prevention Program (MVP). According to the Northeastern website, the MVP is a leadership program that motivates both men and women to play a central role in solving problems that historically have been considered “women’s issues,” such as rape, battery, and sexual harassment.

“We are trying to get the student athletes involved,” Ms. Costello said. “The Mentors program is a bystander approach to getting men to stand up. Getting the public involved. Making it not just a women’s issue.” The goal of the local initiative is to get athletes who are often looked at as role models, specifically male athletes, to help spread the message, she added.

“Part of the MVP training is to teach the bystander approach and have kids stand up,” Mr. Sherman said. “Let them know that the jokes and the name calling that they think is harmless is the basis for crimes against women and minorities like homosexuals.”

For the past two years Mr. Sherman has led a Healthy Relationships Curriculum program in the local schools. In January a new group Mr. Sherman started called Vineyard Men for Abuse Prevention held its first monthly meeting. Said Ms. Costello, “This group was developed in an effort to get male role models in our community to come together, educate one another on the violence in our community in which women are the primary victims, and find ways to support victims by taking a stand against violence and increasing community awareness.”

A 27-year-old Vineyard native, Mr. Sherman got involved in the field of domestic violence prevention while he was living in Tampa, Florida following graduation from the Criminal Justice program at Northeastern and a six-year stint as an Edgartown police officer. “I left the police but still wanted to help,” he said. His position as a popular high school coach has helped CONNECT to reach out to high school students in a number of ways, most recently with the stickers the players will wear on their helmets throughout the rest of the season.

The hockey team has committed to a community service project each month during their season. In January, they helped out on a Habitat for Humanity construction day.

Last March, Mr. Sherman enlisted the hockey players in the worldwide White Ribbon Day pledge drive. Team members went out into the community and collected signatures on a pledge document that stated, “From this day forward I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.” The team collected more than 500 signatures.