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Mental health added to coaches’ mission

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Colorado High School Activities Association commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green called it a very bold stance.

The CHSAA Board of Directors in June approved a Mental Health Initiative that mandates all coaches take a course on mental health and suicide prevention. It could be a class set up by the various school districts or one offered by the NHFS Learning Center.

Colorado and the CHSAA has been recognized nationally for the valiant effort to try to help troubled teenagers.

“We were inundated not only statewide but from national media for the steps that we took,” said Blanford-Green. “Everything that we have heard has been positive. When the CHSAA mandates things, sometimes we get pushback, but this probably is the first thing we’ve put out in a long time that 100% of the people say it was the right thing to do.

“We’re not doing it because we want any accolades. We’re doing it because we have kids in crises. It opened the door for us being elevated as a state looking for the best interest for our kids socially, emotionally as well as physically.”

CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Jenn Roberts-Uhlig is the head of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which spearheaded the creation of the initiative.

“Everyone in this state is trying to wrap their heads and arms around kiddos to see what we can do to support them and see if we can make this go away,” said Roberts-Uhlig. “If we can hit it from all angles, that’s our goal.”

CHSAA tries to minimize the amount of mandates placed on coaches but national data reveals that steps need to be taken.

In the most recent 2017 data available, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported that for youngsters of all races and sexes between the ages of 10 and 19, there were 3,008 suicides in the United States for a population of 41,910,114, which works out to a crude rate of 7.18.

Crude rate is the number of deaths occurring in a specified population per year, usually expressed as the number of cases per 100,000.

In Colorado, there were 99 deaths for a 719,586 population figure and a 13.76 crude rate, which is almost double the national average.

“Our culture in society right now — this is what we need to look at to make sure the kids are in a good spot mentally, regardless of how they are playing on the field or in the gym,” said Pomona gymnastics coach Tracey Boychuk. “The Mental Health Initiative is a great reminder for us that have been doing this for a long time and it will be a great ad for new coaches coming in.

“It is a reminder that being a high school coach is more than just coaching skills. It’s being a linguistics coordinator or a counselor when needed, being a first aid responder when needed and all those things.”

Two seniors at Arapahoe died by suicide within three days of each other last October in the most recent tragedies at the school. In 2013, a student was shot and killed by another student who also killed himself. In 2017 two Arapahoe students and a Powell Middle School student died by suicide.

Mark Hampshire, boys and girls soccer coach at Arapahoe, cautions that more needs to be done other than having coaches taking classes and watch videos.

“I hope this is step one,” he said, “but it’s not enough. Having been really close to the worst of the final stages of the struggles with mental health in our building, there certainly needs to be a recognition that there are issues going on in our community for the youth and people in general.

“To able to use our sports and the team scenario to try to foster some positive things and be a problem solver is not a bad thing. I’m a little leery about reactionary stuff. It’s better than nothing for sure but it’s a much bigger issue than a 15-minute video.”

CHSAA is supporting a Mental Health Monday campaign this fall with resources for student-athletes, coaches and others a couple times each month.

Mid-season form

Boys golfers, most of whom have been playing all summer, were the first of the fall athletes to jump into high school competition, and there have been some good scores recorded in a few of the early season tournaments.

Bo Wardynski of Regis Jesuit carded a 5-under-par 67 at Overland Golf Course on Aug. 8 to be the medalist at the first Continental League meet of the season. Nick Fallin of Rock Canyon had an even par 72.

At the Cherry Creek Invitational held Aug. 13 at Buffalo Run, Arapahoe’s Will Kates tied for third with a 2-under-par 70 and Creek’s Charlie Flaxbeard tied for fifth with a 1-under-par 71. By the way, Jason Jennings of Montrose won the tournament with a 5-under-par 67.

Max Lange of Lakewood fashioned at even par 72 to tie for medalist honors on Aug. 14 at the Sun Devil Invitational held at Saddle Rock Golf Course.

Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at jbenton@coloradocommunitymedia.com or at 303-566-4083.

Jim Benton

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