At four-feet, seven-inches tall, Greensburg-Decatur County Animal Control Officer Mike Wenning has always been small.
“I was a small kid,” Wenning recalled, “All the way up through grade school, junior high and high school, I was always smaller than all the other kids. And I grew into a very short adult.”
From grades 1 through 8, Wenning’s short stature made him a prime target for bullies.
“I was badly bullied,” he recalled. “Bullies always single out kids who are different; they look for one trait they can exploit and ridicule — red hair, braces, weight, speaking accent — it can be almost anything. For me, it was my stature. I was always so small; I couldn’t physically defend myself.”
“On the other hand, I was raised in a good, Christian home; brought up to respect other people,” he added. “So when I was bullied, I didn’t yell or curse.”
As a result, Wenning was pushed down, punched in the face, shoulder, and chest, and called a wide variety of demeaning names, including “punk,” “runt,” “pipsqueak,” and an assortment of other, more vulgar terms not suitable for print.
“I wore glasses from second grade forward,” he recalled. “I came home several times with broken glasses because of the bullying. I’d lie to my mom — tell her I fell down — and she’d buy me another pair. That was a really big deal for our family. We were very poor and every extra expense was a financial strain, but somehow my mom always found a way to buy me new glasses.”
Wenning recalled coming home from school many-a-day, plopping down on his bed and crying his heart out.
“One day, when I was in 7th grade at Greensburg Junior High School,” he said, “I came home and was crying on the bed, and my mom came in to find out what was wrong. That day, she finally managed to get the truth out of me.”
He continued, “She really didn’t know how to deal with the situation. I remember her saying, ‘You’ll just have to fight your own battles.’ She told my dad, too.”
Wenning’s father took a slightly more proactive stance.
“He wanted to go fight someone or at least give someone a good yelling at,” he said. “It wouldn’t have mattered whether it was the parents or the bullies; he just wanted to do something to force it to stop.”
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and Wenning’s father never exhorted to such measures.
Despite it all, though, nothing changed for Wenning, and the bullying continued until his freshman year in High School at GCHS.
Then it all changed. Drastically.
His freshman year, the young, short-statured Wenning joined the GCHS wrestling team, and nothing has been the same since.
“When I became a wrestler,” he said, “I entered a special brotherhood. The bigger boys on the team instantly became my guardian angels. That’s one way being on a team like that can work to your benefit: It was a special brotherhood, and all of us looked out for each other.”
The bullying ended, and, for the first time in his young life, Wenning began developing a sense of self-worth and confidence. He wrestled all four years of high school, and, during his senior year, became state wrestling champion in his weight division.
“That was pretty special,” he said. “People would always say to me, ‘You’re too small to wrestle,’ and I just let those comments motivate me. I was strong willed. When I first started wrestling, I felt like a nobody, but I took all the tears and pain and frustration through all those years, and I turned it around; I became a champion.”
Wenning is convinced his story will resonate with current Greensburg and Decatur County students and has started work on an anti-bullying presentation detailing his experiences. He intends to give that presentation to Greensburg students to “let them know they’re not alone.”
“My presentation isn’t quite ready,” he said. “But I’m close, and I’m meeting with [GJHS Guidance Counselor] Pam Warner Wednesday to set up a date to do the first presentation.”
Wenning anticipates giving the first presentation before the end of February.
“I love kids,” he said. “And since I’m so short, they really relate well to me. I’m smaller than a lot of them, and they see me as someone who’s one of them. I know it might sound funny, but my stature gives me a degree of trust when I’m dealing with kids.”
Wenning hopes to parlay that trust and relatability into a powerful message of hope and anti-bullying.
“I want kids to know they’re not alone. They’re not the only ones to be targeted and picked on by bullies,” he said. “There’s hope. No matter how bad things seem now, it’ll get better. It might not get better this year or next, maybe not until you’re out of grade school or junior high or maybe not until you’re out of high school. But it will get better. Never doubt it.”
No matter their grade or station in life, one step kids can take to curb bullying, Wenning added, is to get involved.
“By that, I mean become active in your church. Join a sports team at school, or some other kind of team or group,” he said. “There’s power in numbers. And the more connections you form, the more friends you make, the more proactive you become in your community, the less likely a bully is to single you out. And if a bully does single you out, you’re more likely to find that guardian angel, someone with the heart and backbone to step up for you.”
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.