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RoughRiders aiming to have long-term impact in Cedar Rapids

A group of Players shared their experience with students at LaSalle Middle School speaking about their own struggles with bullying.

Celebrating their 20th year in Cedar Rapids, the RoughRiders have become a staple in the United States Hockey League. They have produced outstanding talents making their way to the NHL and professional leagues around the world. Most importantly however they have become a thriving organization supporting community members in all levels of society.

"We kind of always talk about the RoughRiders being a program rather than just being a team," Head Coach Mark Carlson said. "Part of that program is having the opportunity and the willingness to get out in the community and make a positive impact involving our staff and players."

From events like a game for veterans or supporting first-responders, the RoughRiders always aim to help where they can. Their newest initiative was unveiled last week and is called "Every Goal Matters". An anti-bullying campaign, the organization encourages young students to have a conversation and talk about their problems rather than just stay quite. Players and coaches used the opportunity at LaSalle Middle School to talk about their own experiences and let kids know that even the smallest gesture can make a big difference.

"I think as an athlete you have a springboard to have a platform. To get people thinking a little bit, make somebodies day, be kind to someone," Carlson said. "Think about others and their feelings, how boring would it be if we were all the same? Let's embrace diversity."

The RoughRiders are not alone in their endeavor and have teamed up with the Cedar Rapids Police Department to continue to reach schools across the area. Officer Shannon Sampson has worked with students over the last couple of years and has seen the issue of bullying take a toll on many kids and adults in schools.

"It used to be bullying was physical face to face, now it's online. It just breaks my heart to see a student being excluded just because they are different," Sampson said. "We want everyone to know that everyone matters and to have everyone respect each other."

One of the most important aspects for Officer Sampson is communication. Often victims stay quiet and don't talk about their problems. By creating a more open conversation and giving kids a chance to speak up, the affect of bullying can be reduced simply by talking with each other. The RoughRiders player's have taken that mission to heart and for Sampson because they are athletes, they can empower kids to be better citizens.

"The hockey players are a little closer to the ages to the kids that we are talking to at schools and honestly the hockey players are heroes to a lot of these students," Sampson said. "They really pay attention and listen to what the players are saying and listen to coach Mark and really just get the message that we are all trying to put out there."

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