Father delivers a strike in message about the dangers off bullying

Chris Cage, of Willie 103.5, talks at Saturday’s Bowling Against Bullying about his son Christian, who took his own life in April. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
By David Slone 

WARSAW — Before there were strikes, spares and gutter balls at Saturday’s Bowling Against Bullying, speaker Chris Cage, of Willie 103.5, reminded everyone why it’s important to be a buddy and not a bully.

“Four and a half months ago, April 3, my son Christian, who was 16 years old, committed suicide by overdose,” Cage said in his speech at the start of the event. “He did it by taking prescription medications, and we have a lot of questions that we’ll never get answers to. A lot of whys: Why did he do it? What led Christian to do it? Things that we’ll probably never get answers to.”

Cage said Christian was a great kid and everyone loved him wherever he went, including his classmates in Fort Wayne. His laugh was infectious.

“One of the things they say about a sign of bullying, when you’re having trouble, is your grades will start to slip. The last two semesters, his grades were the best they’ve ever been. We had no idea, no indication at all, that anything was bugging him,” Cage said.

Reading some of the letter Christian wrote, Cage said, “After a lot of thinking, I think I know what I’m finally going to say. I’m going to keep this short and brief, so please bear with me. I want to start off by saying I love you, I love all of you and I appreciate everything everyone’s ever done for me in my life. My family, friends, strangers, etc., I love you all and I wish you Godspeed.”

Cage said a lot of it was over a girl – Christian’s first love at 16 – “but we also know that there was some bullying involved from other classmates. We don’t know to what extent.”

If there was one message Cage wanted to give, it was, “We know Christian has a higher purpose and it’s one of the reasons I’m standing here. Bullying is a big issue. When a lot of us were kids, we didn’t have the social media, the Instagram, stuff like that. It’s even worse today.”

Cage said that not only applies to kids, but adults, too.

“I just spoke with someone last week who was telling me back in October they were at a point in their life where they were standing next to a railroad track and he looked at his friend and said, ‘What do you think that would feel like?’ In that moment, you don’t think about everyone else, your family members, what you’re going to leave behind when it comes to family, friends. It’s devastating,” Cage said.

To everyone at Saturday’s event, including the young ones, he said if they ever get to a point in their life where they feel like they’re lost, where no one likes them and everyone hates them and where they feel like they have no reason to go on, “don’t do it. Just talk to someone. If not a friend or your parents, there are places out there that you can talk to, you can make contact with.”

Over the last 3-1/2 months, Cage said he’s heard from people who attempted suicide. He’s also talked to people who have lost someone to suicide.

“All the stories are the same: ‘We didn’t know anything was wrong.’ The last night Christian was with us, he was upstairs playing his video game. I heard him laugh, I heard him talking. The next morning, something happened and he took his life. So, again, anyone in this room, don’t be afraid to say something. It’s not a bad thing to say something. Mental health in today’s society is a real issue and the last thing I want to see is one of you sitting here today, to have your parents say, ‘Why? Where did I go wrong? What happened?’” Cage said.

“As the sign says outside, be a buddy not a bully. Words hurt people more than you can ever know, and it’s really easy at a young age to have those things going on in your mind. There’s help out there,” he said in his concluding comments.

Bowling Against Bullying was started after Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office deputy Shaun Mudd heard a story about a kid who was bullied at school and Mudd wanted to do something for him. When lunch with the student got canceled, Mudd got permission to take him bowling and decided to take a whole bunch of people bowling. Mudd had friends donate money to pay for the lanes, food and prizes and it was intended as a one-time event.

“We came and had a good time. A lady came and gave me money on what she would have spent. She goes, ‘This is for next year.’ And I thought, ‘I guess I’ve got to do this next year,’” Mudd recalled. “So this is year five.”

He also let people know that for any student in the Kosciusko County school systems, each school corporation has paid for a certain number of counseling sessions if a student needs to talk to someone. Mudd encouraged anyone who needed to talk to someone to do just that.

The fifth annual free Bowling Against Bullying took place at The Bowling Alley, 1535 N. Detroit St., Warsaw. Along with the three hours of free bowling, Bowling Against Bullying offered free pizza and pop and raffle prizes for the kids. Combined Community Services gave away backpacks with school supplies in them.

Tim Frame, CCS director of emergency assistance, said they had 100 backpacks for the kids at the event.

“We had a very large turnout at Tools for School a few weeks ago and the need was just so great, so we just had an opportunity to partner with Mudd and Bowling Against Bullying just to make sure the kids in our community had an opportunity to have school supplies,” Frame said.

He said the need for school supplies has been greater than ever this year, with over 1,300 kids assisted at Tools for School. The backpacks – that were donated Friday by WNDU Channel 16 through its backpack drive – contain notebooks, rulers, pens, pencils and a pouch with crayons, glue and scissors.

CCS still has backpacks with school supplies available. If any family has any children in need of school supplies, they can contact CCS. Frame estimated they should have about 150 backpacks still available for any students in the county from elementary to high school.
Jennifer Stichter, general manager for The Bowling Alley, said Bowling Against Bullying is an event they want to host for as long as it takes place.

 “We’re very family-oriented and we think this is very important for the community to have something that is pro-youth, pro-family to teach kids that bullying is not OK and that we want them to have good mental health,” she said.
James Taylor, of Warsaw, brought four kids with him Saturday. It was the fourth year he’s participated, having missed one year.
“It’s a fun community event. One of my good friends, old school, running it. So I come to support and have a good time,” he said.
Bowling Against Bullying is a nonprofit as it now falls under the umbrella of Live Well Kosciusko.
Lisa Harman, Live Well executive director, said, “Shaun Mudd actually serves on the Community Well-Being Committee with Live Well Kosciusko and this is something that he has been very passionate about, was talking about, and it really falls into one of the areas that we work in here in Kosciusko County.”
With the new public health funding coming from the state, Harman said, bullying and mental health for children and youth are some of the things that money could help fund.
“Hopefully, we’ll get some more programming for bullying here in the county,” she said.
Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Doug Light, who also has served as a school resource officer, was one of several officers participating in Bowling Against Bullying on his day off.
“We’re just so excited for Shaun. We’re proud of Shaun. Corporal (Justin) Smith does Camp HERO. Phenomenal. This is Shaun’s event, phenomenal. We’re just extremely proud of him and his passion for the kids, helping kids of Kosciusko County. And that’s what it’s all about,” Light said.
“We have a couple deputies that have a passion for that, and seeing all the other deputies here supporting him, it’s just really cool. You look around and you see the smiles, people bowling, laughing, drinking some soda, eating some pizza, it’s pretty cool to do on a Saturday afternoon.”

Approximately 100 kids and adults took part this year in the event.

Reflecting on the turnout about halfway through, Mudd said it went very well and he was very happy with it.

“Kids left happy. Kids that need it, just like backpacks. It always amazes me that 50% of Warsaw Community Schools is on free and reduced lunches. So, Combined Community Services showing up with backpacks and all they do – Tools for School – is awesome,” Mudd said.

“That’s why we have this: So kids are happy and everyone is leaving happy. Families get to spend time together, come bowl for the day. That’s all I wanted to do – come out and have a good time.”

A bowler releases his ball during the free Bowling Against Bullying event Saturday at The Bowling Alley in Warsaw. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.