By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA – Shea Bonner is enrolled in a senior AP Research class at Lower Cape May Regional High School that has guided her toward studying mental health in high school athletes.
Bonner soon discovered Morgan’s Message, a non-profit that, according to its website, “amplifies stories, resources, and expertise to confront student-athlete mental health, builds a community by and for athletes, and provides a platform for advocacy.”
The organization is named in memory of Morgan Rodgers, a former Duke University lacrosse player who committed suicide at age 22 after suffering from anxiety and depresssion following a serious knee injury that derailed her playing career.
“Through my research, I found Morgan’s Message and I started following them and listening to their podcast and I became really interested in learning about mental health with both college and high school athletes,” Bonner said. “So I really wanted to do something to promote it at my own school.”
That something came to fruition Wednesday afternoon when the Lower Cape May and Our Lady of Mercy Academy girls lacrosse teams used their contest against one another to join forces to raise awareness about mental health issues in high school athletes.
Bonner, who is set to engage in health studies as part of a six-year doctorate program in occupational therapy at Monmouth University beginning in the fall, is a starting defender for Lower Cape May’s team.
“This was 110 percent Shea Bonner’s idea,” Lower coach JoAnn McLaughlin said. “When she came to me with the idea, I went to (OLMA coach) Jen Valore and within two seconds, she said, ‘We’re in.’”
“It’s just an amazing idea. We need to continue to raise awareness. It’s important for both of our teams and all high school athletes that there are options for them if they’re not feeling their best and that they need to continue to talk to their families and friends about it.”
Bonner led a short ceremony before the game. After both teams came together at midfield, Bonner made a short announcement expressing the importance of mental health in high school athletes. She also led a moment of silence in memory of those who’ve lost their lives due to mental health struggles and their families. The teams also wore matching warm-up T-shirts made specifically for the game.
“I think it turned out really great,” Bonner said. “A lot of my teammates, along with the girls from OLMA, I think we’ve all learned that you’re not alone if you’re struggling. You can rely on your teammates and other people out there that will help you. I think what we did today with this game shows that we’re all in this together. We’re fighting our own battles but we all have each other to rely on, too.”
Mental health among athletes has been a prevalent topic in the news lately. A couple of the more high-profile tragedies involved the suicides of Stanford soccer star goalkeeper Katie Meyer and James Madison softball standout Lauren Bennett just since March.
“It’s a huge issue, but I don’t think it’s been noticed as much until the past couple of months with four college athletes (recently) committing suicide,” Bonner said. “I think now we’re finally realizing people are struggling. It’s good that it’s becoming more talked about. This is a start in the right direction but we still need to continue bringing awareness.”
McLaughlin believes high school coaches and athletic programs as a whole are becoming more keenly aware of potential mental health issues among athletes.
“I think we’re spending more time focusing on mental health and how kids are feeling every day,” McLaughlin said. “Kids are dealing with a lot of pressures, whether it’s school, athletics, social. We’re even seeing kids worried with their own statistics and putting pressure on themselves and not talking about their anxieties and how they’re feeling. We need to be aware of that and we need to do as much as we can to help.”
Lower Cape May and OLMA, thanks to Bonner’s idea, certainly did their part on Wednesday.
LCM GETS 13TH VICTORY: As for the game itself, Lower Cape May posted a 19-8 victory to improve to 13-4 on the season. Maddie Schiffbauer scored the 100th goal of her career and finished with four goals and three assists for seven points for the Tigers. Sabrina Faulkner led the goal-scoring with five tallies and Julia Gibson and Maggie Boyle each added four goals. … As the second-place team in the Cape-Atlantic National Conference, Lower Cape May has qualified for the first four-team CAL playoff tournament as the fourth seed and will face American Conference leader and No. 1 Ocean City in the opening round on Friday. No. 2 Holy Spirit will host No. 3 Egg Harbor Township in the other semifinal.