BY LOIS MAHARG
On Sept. 13, the Dexter and Pioneer High School boys’ soccer teams faced off in a doubleheader to raise awareness of mental illness and funds for NAMI Washtenaw. Dexter soccer coach Jamie Lewis was the driving force behind these “mental health awareness” games. Both junior varsity and varsity teams played.
“Now that I’m coaching at the high school,” Lewis said, “this was a chance to make people aware of how common the problem of mental illness is. If it’s not their kid,” he said, referring to the many parents at the games, “it’s someone else’s kid.”
Lewis first learned about NAMI four or five years ago in a parents’ group at the University of Michigan, where he sought help for a son struggling with depression. It wasn’t easy to actually find assistance, Lewis said. So now that he was in a position to do so, he wanted to increase people’s awareness of mental illness among youth and acquaint people with the help that NAMI Washtenaw can provide.
At the Dexter High School soccer field, sports announcers recognized NAMI as the sponsored organization and broadcast NAMI’s mission several times. Team members from both high schools wore T-shirts bearing NAMI Washtenaw’s logo and hashtag, #CureStigma, and the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Throughout the games, parents and students visited NAMI’s display table beside the bleachers, where staffers Maria Alfonso and Mary Pope offered information about NAMI, passed out brochures and wristbands, and accepted donations. Donations on game day totaled $366.
Several Dexter and Pioneer coaches have an understanding of mental illness, Alfonso said, and are talking about the possibility of making NAMI Washtenaw the beneficiary of other games.
“There’s a lot of excitement about it,” she said.