Duo short in stature, big on anti-bullying message


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 12:13 a.m.
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Fort Clarke Middle School students crowd Billy Klinke as they exit for class after an assembly Friday given by Klinke and partner Chris Hollyfield, not pictured. The duo, who were born with dwarfism, travel to schools around the nation speaking to kids about respecting those who are different.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Chris Hollyfield and Billy Klinke know about bullying.
They were both born with dwarfism, a condition that leaves them with unusually short arms and legs.
Even as adults, standing just over 4 feet tall, they still frequently encounter snickers and stares.
But, addressing Fort Clarke Middle School students at an anti-bullying event Friday, they emphasized that their height hadn't affected their ability to succeed.
Hollyfield is a former professional wrestler who has appeared on MTV; Klinke, a jockey, has won more than 1,000 horse races.
The Fort Clarke students reacted enthusiastically to the presentation, peppering the pair with questions about everything from their shoe sizes to their experiences with former bullies and rude adults.
"The kids love us," Hollyfield said. "They take what we say to heart."
Hollyfield, 36, and Klinke, 44, first started touring the country with their anti-bullying message in 1991, but have seen a surge in demand since several school shootings in the 1990s focused attention on the negative consequences of persistent bullying and teasing.
"A lot of people think it's just part of growing up, but it shouldn't be that way," Klinke said. "Kids can be so cruel and mean - you just feel so bad about yourself."
"We always look at bullying and teasing like it's not important," Hollyfield said. "If your school is full of a lot of bullies, I can guarantee it's not going to be an A school."
The presentation, funded by the Alachua County school district, is part on an ongoing anti-bullying campaign at Fort Clarke and other county schools featuring assemblies, training sessions and in-class videos.
Principal Donna Kidwell said letters and phone calls from parents earlier this year persuaded her to intensify the school's efforts to stop teasing and bullying.
"We decided to do something about it," she said. "The kids have to learn to speak up and be assertive."
Though it is hard to gauge the success of the program, Kidwell said the calls and letters have stopped and more students have started reported bullying rather than remaining silent.
Hollyfield and Klinke, who often revisit schools where they have previously spoken, said they have seen the impact of their work.
"Even the bullies say, 'Wow, I didn't realize what I was doing,' " Hollyfield said.
At Fort Clarke, Klinke and Hollyfield were swarmed by students asking questions, requesting autographs or sharing their own experiences - including one eighth-grader who said he was picked on and teased so much he had contemplated suicide.
"It just baffles my mind," Hollyfield said. "As a child, these are your best days. To have a student contemplating suicide - it's a huge problem. Hopefully, we'll get people to speak up."

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