New encourage students and faculty alike that if they “see something, say something.”
Matt Liberato, a sixth-grader at the , has gone above and beyond that request.
The 12-year-old, whose passion is wrestling, decided the best way to reach people about the effects of bullying was to write a book on the topic.
And so he did. “The Power of a Wrestler,” a 32-page fictional journal of what goes on in the lives of students every day, was published last week, and has already sold more than 50 copies.
Liberato recently spent a day reading his book to fourth-grade students at in the , where his father works.
“Bullying can be really powerful,” Liberato said. “It can even cause suicide. I’ve never been bullied, but I’ve seen someone get teased. I thought the book would be a good way help people understand (bullying) better.”
Liberato worked on the concept and text for “a couple of months” he said, spending about 40 minutes each weekday morning writing, revising, and re-writing before the school day began.
The story takes readers through a scenario where the victim, Anthony, is bullied by a popular classmate named Robert. After several instances, a third peer, named Matt, steps in and stops the bully from harassing his victim in a non-violent way.
A student of Matt Marciano’s sixth grade social studies class at Long Valley Middle School, Liberato is taking part in the year-long , and the book is how he chose to make a difference.
The oldest child of two school teachers, Liberato surprised even his parents when he told them about–and executed–his project.
“When he was writing the story, and talking to us about being an up-stander instead of a bystander, I was like, ‘where’d you get all this?’” his father, Mike Liberato said. “It’s like he took what he knows, and kind of filled in the blanks to make the story complete.”
And while mom and dad gave Liberato as much support as possible, they tried to stay out of the writing process so he could make it his own.
“Every once in a while he would ask for some help,” Matt’s mom, Antoinette Liberato, said. “But we wanted it to be his, and really held back and told him to think about it, spend time in his room coming up with the idea, and we would help him get it published.”
“The kids were so attentive and focused on Matt,” said Mike Liberato. “You could hear a pin drop in that room.”
Life imitating art
Committing himself to writing a book wasn’t exactly a stretch for Liberato, the son of a former high school wrestling coach.
Dedication to completing, and succeeding, seems to come naturally for Liberato, who has been wrestling competitively on the Long Valley youth team for three years.
And while his book is fictional, it’s no coincidence that it begins and ends with a scene from a wrestling match, and the protagonist uses the same courage he feels on the mat to stand up to a bully.
Liberato tries to train seven days a week, he said, and just like writing the book, receives great support from his parents to do so.
“I love wrestling,” the author said. “I’m not playing football or lacrosse like my friends are because I want to focus on wrestling. It’s the only thing I want to do. I want to wrestle for… forever.”
The student amassed a 16-1 record in competition this year, his only loss coming in the 85-lb. division. Liberato usually only competes at 90-lbs. The family will head to Virginia Beach on May 18 so their only son can compete in the National Duals tournament.
If Liberato takes that anti-bullying courage on to the mat, he should have no problem winning a championship.