SOUTH PORTLAND — A little over a year ago, the boys’ winter sports teams at South Portland High School began holding weekly conversations with their coaches about what it means to be truly strong, respectful leaders in their community.

Since then, the anti-bullying and domestic violence prevention program has spread throughout the high school’s boys’ teams, and a similar effort was piloted this year with the girls’ basketball and indoor track teams.

On Tuesday, hoping to deliver their message of nonviolence and personal integrity to a wider audience, the students premiered a public service video message featuring the boys’ basketball team and other male students who are active in the high school’s abuse prevention programs.

“It’s actually pretty powerful,” said team captain Matt Beecher, 17, after seeing the video for the first time. “And hearing it come from the mouths of actual high schoolers makes it more realistic.”

South Portland is the first high school in Maine to embrace the national Coaching Boys Into Men anti-bullying and domestic-violence prevention program.

The 12-week curriculum encourages honest locker-room talks on subjects ranging from respectful use of social media to bragging about sexual reputations to understanding consent.

Gov. Paul LePage attended a screening of the video, “Red Riots: Coaching Boys Into Men,” during a noontime student assembly. In praising the video, LePage spoke to the teenagers about his abusive upbringing and his personal campaign to prevent what he called a “heinous crime against humanity.”

LePage said bullying and domestic violence are related behaviors that are immature and inappropriate uses of power to control and intimidate others.

“Not a single young lady or young man in this room deserves to be abused,” LePage said during a student assembly.

The Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum was developed by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Futures Without Violence and has been used in high schools across the United States. It includes training guidelines for coaches and suggested topics for 15-minute conversations to be held weekly during a three-month sports season.

A similar pilot program for girls’ teams is being developed by the Young Adult Abuse Prevention Program at Family Crisis Services, a Cape Elizabeth-based agency that facilitates abuse prevention programs at South Portland High.

“South Portland is an innovative leader in the state and the nation in this area,” said Carlin Whitehouse, a youth educator at Family Crisis Services who wrote and produced the video with director David Meiklejohn.

The video, at just over a minute long, shows scenes of the basketball team during a practice and a locker room chat with Coach Phil Conley. The voiceover features students in the high school’s Guys & Pies group, which gathers weekly for pizza and conversations about current issues.

“Who we are as men will not be defined by the strength of our arms and legs,” the voiceover says, “but by the strength of our character, our attitudes, our beliefs and our actions.”

Whitehouse said his agency has asked coaches and athletic directors in other Maine school districts to adopt the program. Many liked the idea, he said, “but I think they feel they already have a lot on their plates.”

Todd Livingston, South Portland’s athletic director, said he was swayed by a Coaching Boys Into Men video that was made by students in Texas.

“Listening to those kids talk about the program was very powerful for me,” Livingston said. “And anytime you can provide kids with an opportunity to make a difference in their community, it’s a good thing.”

Livingston said the conversations don’t take that much time and meld with the district’s overall approach to team-building. “It builds on a tradition of treating people with respect and preparing people to be leaders in the community,” Livingston said.

The video is available on YouTube and at www.yaapp.org.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: KelleyBouchard