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Morrison County Record

Swanville Bulldogs girls basketball team stands for those with invisible wounds

By By Sheila Bergren,


Mental health issues more common than people realize

Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Swanville girls basketball team and the visiting team from Braham will wear the same T-shirts in solidarity to raise awareness about mental health.

Swanville senior and co-captain Amelia Hudalla said the project started out with just the Swanville girls basketball team wanting to wear special T-shirts during the game night to raise awareness about mental health. The idea to highlight the topic came from the fact the team has raised awareness many times in the past around other struggles and diseases, such as cancer. However, unlike cancer, Hudalla said, it’s a whole lot harder to spot.

“Personally, until recently, I didn’t realize mental health affects that many people. Not all wounds are visible. You can’t see if someone’s struggling from mental illness, but you can see if they’re struggling with cancer,” she said.

Talking with their coach, Aaron Gapinski, they decided to find sponsors for T-shirts to be made for the team. Little did they know when they first started the project, it would grow exponentially.

“We ended up getting shirts and sponsors and now it has turned into this big night that we never really expected to even happen,” Hudalla said.

Hudalla said the team received several donations, which included $1,000 from a Sourcewell grant, $500 from Northern Pines, $300 from National Alliance on Mental Health, $750 from Innovative Schools Project as physical education and health were doing units on mental health, $300 from the Swanville Women’s Club and other anonymous donors. Because of people’s generosity, Hudalla said the funds covered for T-shirts to be given to all the students in the Swanville School District, the teachers and the shirts they will be giving to the team from Braham. People in the community were able to order some, too.

In addition to the planned mental health awareness evening, the event will kick off in the morning with Northern Pines presenting about mental health awareness, including suicide prevention, to elementary, middle and high school students. Each presentation will be tailored to the students’ ages.

“I’m just so proud of the efforts that these girls do and always looking to care for other people. You know basketball is a game, but they always go above and beyond and want to help others, so that’s a proud moment as a coach,” Gapinski said.

As the team has worked to raise awareness about mental health, Gapinski said the students, he as a coach and others, have learned more about mental health. By starting to talk openly about mental health without any judgment, he said the hope is to break the stigma of mental health.

“I think there are things that all of us can learn, including them. Also, bringing awareness is just helping us learn about it, too, so we can be there for each other,” he said.

While some of the girls on the team may not personally know someone who struggles with mental health, some do. Thinking of an individual she knows and continues to support, junior Karley Loven said her experience has inspired her to pursue a career in mental health as a psychiatrist.

Since the team started the mental health awareness project, junior Samantha Sobiech said she has become more understanding of the different mental health struggles people face. It has also made her want to be even kinder to people, as one never really knows what a person may be battling, she said.

Simply being there for those around her has always been on the forefront for junior Kennedee Chuba. She has also found that one doesn’t have to know everything that is going on in a person’s life to still be able to help them, even if it is just sitting with them in silence, she said.

Choosing to support someone who is struggling with their mental health can make a huge difference in their life, said senior and co-captain Lauren Miller. Having that support can encourage the individual to seek and accept professional help, as well. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reaching out to the person to hang out, she said.

The T-shirts were created by the girls basketball team as a whole in the color green. Printed on the front are the words: “Not all wounds are visible” and “mental health awareness.” On the back is #EndTheStigma” along with “We support those who have to fight every single day. You are not alone!” In addition, “Swanville girls basketball” and “Braham girls basketball” are printed on the back with logos of supporters Sourcewell, Northern Pines and 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, people, who are “experiencing mental health-related distress (suicide, mental health and/or substance use crisis)” can connect to Lifeline by either calling, texting or chatting 988 at any time for confidential support. Those who are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support are encouraged to call, as well.

“When you connect to the Lifeline, a trained crisis specialist will answer, listen to you and provide support and share resources, if needed. Crisis specialists are trained to focus on de-escalation, safety planning and coping skills,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

As the topic is highlighted around mental health, Swanville behavior interventionist Lacy Zupko said she hopes students who are struggling will find a place where they understand that it is OK to feel whatever they’re feeling and that people do care.

Zupko and other adults will be available to the students after the presentation in case it stirs emotions.

“Conversations like that can be very heavy and they’re supposed to be. It’s literally about life and death and the things that people struggle with are heavy, so we will be available to talk as they need to,” Zupko said.

“We want to thank the community for coming together, so we can bring awareness to as many people as possible. The community just rallies around benefits and promotions like this, so I want to thank them and the school for doing it,” Gapinski said.

Zupko and Supt. Travis Hensch said they are excited for the traction the mental health awareness project has gotten and are looking forward to Feb. 14.

“It’s coming back full circle now, which is why it is so exciting, because it was created by a bunch of teenage girls, who had this whole idea,” Hensch said.

Zupko said what makes it all even more cool is the fact that it was started by teenage girls as teenage girls are likely the largest population that gets hit the hardest, Zupko said.

“This is so neat and empowering. Like, there are so many messages that can come out of this day and the girls are like the perfect megaphone to get it across. It’s super exciting,” Hensch said.

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