Kick It Tournament

It's a battle too often waged alone and with heartbreaking results.

Hoping to spark a cultural change that will reverse that tragic approach to depression, two Woburn Memorial High School pupils are organizing "Kick It 2019", the community's first-ever kickball tournament aimed at increasing suicide awareness.

The Oct. 19 event, which will be held at the high school's various artificial turf playing fields, is being arranged by WMHS seniors Noah Dhaliwal and Sam Gerry, who will donate all proceeds from the community gathering to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

According to Dhaliwal, who first dreamed up the idea of the kickball tournament, he and Gerry intend to send a clear message to anyone who may be struggling with depression or contemplating suicide.

"You're not alone in this," stressed the 17-year-old Woburnite. "We wanted to create a family-friendly event, something where we could include everybody. We want to show people effected by this that there are always people who will support them, no matter what they're going through."

The oft-taboo topic of suicide indeed hits particularly close to home for Gerry, a gifted golfer whose own struggles with depression have received national media attention in recent years.

Last spring, Gerry first recounted his first struggles with depression through a blog entry on the American Junior Golf Association website. In that essay, he described a months-long depressive episode in 2016, when as a 14-year-old eighth grader, he found himself questioning whether he wanted to continue living.

A month later, the student athlete's bold decision to raise depression awareness reached a national audience with the publication of a feature story in Golf Digest's online publication. Soon after, the Golf Channel picked up on the story via its 'Morning Drive' broadcast.

Yet again sharing his story before Woburn's School Committee last October, Gerry, a member of the high school's golf team, told the city officials he knew he needed help after loosing interest in his favorite activity.

"For reasons I'm still unsure of, I just woke up one morning and felt different. Af first, [I wasn't even dealing] with normal symptoms of depression. I didn't feel sad or down, but I had lost my passion for golf. And for me, that's a huge red flag," the teenager told local officials.

"As time progressed, other symptoms did develop, and I started to have dark thoughts. While in the eighth grade at 13 or 14 [years-old], it was difficult to deal with, especially with the stresses of school and golf," Gerry continued, before later explaining that he eventually got help after reaching out to his parents.

According to Dhaliwal, he combined forces with the Woburn High School classmate and golfer Sam Gerry after learning that another friend had just experienced the loss of two close relatives to suicide.

In an interview with the Middlesex East, the high school senior explained that he had long dreamed of giving back to his hometown by launching a new community fundraiser. After flirting with the idea for months, the WMHS student felt compelled to act after discovering just how prevalent suicide is across the country.

"In some way, I think we're all effected by depression and suicide. It's everywhere we look," he said. "I've already had a couple of kids [message] me and say they've struggled with this too and wanted to help out. They were kids I never would have expected were struggling with these kinds of issues. So it's good to know we're hitting close to home."

Research appears to overwhelmingly validate Dhaliwal's conclusions about the broad reach of depression and suicide.

Statistics compiled earlier this year by the American Psychological Association (APA) indicate that suicide rates have been climbing substantially over the past two decades.

According to the APA's January edition of its Monitor on Psychology publication, suicides climbed by 30 percent between 2000 and 2016, and suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

In 2017 alone, according to figures from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, nearly 1.4 million people attempted suicide. Tragically, roughly 47,200 of those attempts were successful.

The spike in self-inflicted deaths coincides with troubling data, released by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, demonstrating that teen suicide rates climbed by roughly 31 percent between 2007 and 2015.

In fact, suicide is listed by the Centers for Disease Control as the second-leading cause of death for youths and young adults aged between 15 and 24. Federal health officials, citing self-reporting survey data, have suggested that approximately one out of every 53 high school pupils has made at least one suicide attempt that was considered serious enough to require medical treatment.

In late 2015, Woburn's School Committee discovered that the community was not isolated from those trends. According to a Youth Risk Behavior Study (YRBS) administered to WMHS pupils, 14 percent of local adolescents reported contemplating suicide over the previous 12 months.

School officials, who had already been raising alarms about rising numbers of pupils struggling with family crises, depression, and other serious social-emotional stressors, have since hired a number of new adjustment counselors and allocated funding to retain the services of a mental health referral service.

Those looking to participate in Woburn's 'Kick it 2019' tournament can do so by logging onto kickit2019.brizy.site and registering their eight-member squad. Participants must be over the age of 13, and a $10 entry fee will be charged.

The tournament itself will begin at noon on Saturday Oct. 19 at WMHS's athletic fields, located by the high school's main campus off of Montvale Avenue. Teams of 8 will compete in a round robin format, meaning they will have multiple opportunities to play each other and move on depending on their record following their games. Winning teams will move on until a champion is crowned at the end of the day.

According to Dhaliwal, those looking for additional information about the event, including sponsorship opportunities, are welcome to contact him or Gerry via email at noah.dhaliwal26@gmail.com or samuelgerry@icloud.com.

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