“Boys to Men” speaker series kicks off


Mike Costello

Cotter grad. Joe Coron speaks to the Boys to Men group

Every boy goes through physical changes and becomes an adult, but on the inside there is a much bigger transformation that must occur for a boy to turn into a true man.

This process has different effects on everyone as some boys come out the other side a better person ready to take on a more independent life while some begin to lose relationships with their parents and turn to alcohol or drugs.

No matter their circumstance, whether they will admit or not, every boy could use guidance from their elders who have been through the process themselves. In order to provide the boys at Cotter with this guidance, the Boys to Men group was created.

The first Boys to Men speaker was Mr. Pat Mullen

Mr. Costello, Cotter English teacher, and Mr. Forney, Cotter Co-Principal, began to kick around the idea of a boys group a few year ago.

“The genesis of the group came out of some conversations Mr. Forney and I have had over the past few years and just kicked around ideas. I know when my daughters were at St Stan’s they had positive experiences with “Sisters of Science” and “Bravehearts” and I was thinking of a group like that for young men. I had also done some reading and heard speakers, both locally and nationally, talk about the need for young men to see paths forward and make connections with positive role models in their lives and communities. Taking classes is one part of education, but hearing real stories is an important element in developing your vision for the future, and those stories can come from parents, teachers, faith leaders, and coaches, but it is important to know that everyone has a story and we want to share stories of adults in our community with the group”

As the group began to take shape, the main roadbump was finding a time that worked for both the students and the speakers, that didn’t conflict with too many other events and produce the highest turnout of boys. It was agreed upon that it would take place before school roughly once a month and the boys were notified.

Jason Mork shows the boys his squad car after speaking to the group

The first speaker in the series was Cotter parent, Mr. Pat Mullen, the Chief Financial Officer at Behrens Manufacturing.

The second speaker was Dr. Jonathan Locust, Associate Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity, Winona State University. Dr. Locust spoke on Perseverance. He also challenged us to connect with as many people from as many different cultures as possible as it helps us view the world differently.

The third speaker was Winona police officer and high school coach Jason Mork, he spoke to the group about his education, his experiences as an officer and coach and gave the group a tour of his police vehicle at the end of his presentation.

The most recent speaker was Cotter grad and chiropractor Joe Coron. Coron spoke about how his experiences at Cotter shaped him and how some of the most difficult times in his life led to the biggest growth both personally and professionally.

“I think it was very helpful that we could see in other’s perspective and understand the outside world and what others are trying to do to help us and the opposite. It was also cool having people in our own community who make a difference come speak to us about what there challenges or there experiences have been like,” Payton Weifenbach, a sophomore who plays three sports, said.

Ryan Hesch tries on Jason Mork’s police vest

I have also attended every meeting so far and have found them much more beneficial than I thought they were going to be when I first heard about them. The men coming into speak are examples of how the process we are all going through really works and I found it extremely reassuring to say that if you are willing to work hard and have a desire for knowledge, you will be successful.

Each speaker was motivational and said certain things that have stuck with me. Each speaker had their own story, but in a way they all played off each other and reinforced the points the other ones had made.

Charley Schroeder interviews Dr. Jonathan Locust after he spoke to the Boys to Men group

Teachers are also welcome to come and listen to the speakers and two that have shown regularly were Mr. Paulsen and Mr. Whaley.

There can be too much negativity, too much laziness, too much apathy in some of our young men. We need to wrap our hearts around each other and support each other to be better men”

— Mr. Eric Paulsen

“It is of such value to hear outside voices sharing many of the same or similar insights as teachers and parents often do. Coming from an outside source can sometimes lead to an awakening. For me personally, I have found great value in what our speakers have said. Regardless of age and experience there is always opportunity for growth and learning as long as one is open and looking for it,” Mr. Whaley said.

Winona police officer Jason Mork speaks to the Boys to Men group

Mr. Whaley also added that he would like to a see a larger turnout for the speakers and that some type of follow-up fitness or academic type challenge might be a good addition to the group.

Dr. Jonathan Locust of Winona State University was the second speaker in the series

Mr. Paulsen agreed that he has enjoyed the speakers so far and see common qualities in each of them such as, “Self-respect, discipline, compassion, strength, and abilities to lead and be led, among others.”

“Technology and entertainment have distanced men from each other and from the good qualities we hope men will believe in and practice. This is not any young man’s fault. It could be the result of weakness among grown men whom have created and embraced a selfish and self-serving, lazy way of life. Did you know that the target customer for “Game Stop” (video game store) is a 35 year old man? I asked the clerk because I could not find a game to play with my boys that didn’t involve killing people and celebrating death and war. 35 yr old men should be quite busy raising their children, working, learning, sharing their strengths to serve others and themselves positively!,: Paulsen said.

“I am very proud that Cotter guys found each other and put this together. The fact is, is that many men in our school need to find a deeper commitment to being strong, self-reliant, compassionate men. There can be too much negativity, too much laziness, too much apathy in some of our young men. We need to wrap our hearts around each other and support each other to be better men,” Paulsen added.

Covid-19 has no doubt been a major wrench in this group, as it has been in almost all things, but Mr. Costello, Mr. Forney, and many others are trying to figure out a way they can be still be impacting young men while following the E-learning format and the group plans to reconvene in the fall semester.