Anti-bullying

Taking bullying to Dragons’ Den

Bench Bullying team going for open audition on Saturday

Bench Bullying founder Eric Crookshank poses with one of the students he’s met.   Eric Crookshank

Two Halifax boys that have experienced bullying in school will get the opportunity to share their stories this Saturday when the Dragons’ Den audition tour comes to town.

The auditions will be held from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the CEED Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development.

Rylan Cooper, 12, and Miguel Diggs, 17, are both supporters of Bench Bullying — a grassroots program dedicated to spreading awareness about the effects of bullying and supporting victims.

Rylan was born with CLOVES syndrome, a combination of vascular, skin, spinal, bone or joint abnormalities, while Miguel lives with a rare form of epilepsy known as doose syndrome.

Eric Crookshank, a former professional basketball player who founded the initiative in 2014, invited Rylan and Miguel to Saturday’s audition.

“I decided to reward these kids, because their stories affected me in a key way so I decided to keep these kids close,” says Crookshank.

The pair will be tasked with explaining their own history being bullied, what Bench Bullying stands for and why the movement has had such a profound effect on them.

“It’s not just to sell Bench Bullying, it’s to let the judges know who we actually do this for,” Crookshank says.

In the past two years, Crookshank and his team have spoken to over 400 schools across Nova Scotia about bullying. They also organize sports-related programs for at-risk youth and hold a yearly celebrity basketball game, with proceeds going towards sports programming and Kids Help Phone.

Crookshank felt the next logical step was to get outside the province, and pitching to Dragons’ Den offered that possibility.

For two years it’s (Bench Bullying) been going on, I’ve never had a grant, I’ve never had a sponsor, it’s all been out of pocket,” he says. “I’m looking for someone to invest in us to help everyone; it’s (bullying) a worldwide issue.”

‘Like a buddy’

The inclusion of Miguel and Rylan was a surprise. The pair found out last weekend, after Crookshank contacted their parents to get approval.

“When I first told him (Miguel), his first words were ‘that is so cool,’” Miguel’s mom Shirley Diggs says. “He always has a smile on his face, and he was just excited and when I told him it was with Eric, he was even more (excited).”

The Diggs family has known Crookshank for over seven years. They first came in contact when Miguel went to a Halifax Rainmen game to watch Crookshank play.

They continued to keep in touch afterwards, even when Crookshank left the province to continue his basketball career in 2013.

“It’s like a buddy because he (Crookshank) always checks in on him,” Shirley Diggs says.

Crookshank has witnessed Miguel’s development, both physically and emotionally. This was particularly noticeable after the 17-year-old underwent brain surgery three and and half years ago, which helped with his memory and verbal skills.

Ever since his condition began to improve, Miguel has been trying to give back to others that may also have a developmental disability, but can’t speak for themselves. For Crookshank, providing Miguel with the opportunity to share his story was a no-brainer.

“I want to help them,” Miguel says.

For Shirley Diggs, seeing her son persevere has been a true joy.

“With everything he’s gone through, he’s never lost that heart or that soul and that person that he is because he loves to help people, and if you ever met him you’d see exactly what I mean,” she says.

“We’re just so grateful that Eric gave us this chance to be part of his team.”