A pilot program on healthy relationships Hays High School is taking part in is helping the girls' basketball team on and off the court.

Athletes As Leaders is a program started in 2015 at Harbourview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress in Seattle to empower female-identified youth to take a role in promoting healthy relationships and ending sexual violence.

Hays High is one of 10 schools in the nation in the program, said Kaiti Dinges, program specialist with Jana’s Campaign. Dinges, along with Rachel Chambers, campus advocate for Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services, have been directing the program with the girls’ basketball team.

“It’s based on taking active roles in healthy relationships,” Dinges said. “They’re already leaders as athletes. We know they have the skills. This is getting them to know they have the skills.”

For the past nine weeks, the team has met Thursday evenings with Dinges and Chambers for different topics of discussion. Topics have included challenging gender stereotypes, self image, violence in relationships, consent and messages about manhood.

“At first they were very quiet, but now they’re very open,” Dinges said about the 15-minute discussions.

At the first session, the basketball team members took a survey on topics such as abusive situations, bystander intervention and ideas about gender behavior. They’ll take the survey again after completing the program next week.

At Thursday night’s session — with Sunny, a therapy dog with Options wandering among the tables — the girls watched a video about positive relationships among girls and discussed questions such as what causes girl-on-girl hate, what would happen if jealousy was changed to positive feelings and how they can spread positivity through their school.

Junior Logan Harris and sophomore Isabel Robben said they think the program has made a difference for the team.

“I truly think this is benefitting our team because hearing the things about encouraging each other truly helps us on the court. Before, we might not have done that. Now we see it can really help us,” Harris said.

That encouragement can be as simple as a high-five to a teammate, she said.

Robben said it’s helped teammates understand they shouldn’t be too quick to judge others.

“We're more positive about each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. We don't know exactly what they're going through,” she said.

Those lessons extend off the court, too, they said.

“We’re all so close to each other,” Harris said.

“You’re walking through the hallways and smiling at each other,” Robben said.

They said they believe the team’s positivity is spreading to other students, too.

“I think they see we have such a tight bond … ” Harris said.

“They want that, too,” Robben finished for her.