How the death of JMU catcher Lauren Burnet shook college softball and prompted action on mental health
24 hours before the start of her team’s biggest series of the season, Patty Gasso went into a quiet room in her house and clicked the zoom link.
She wasn’t talking strategy to aides or watching opponents’ movies.
She was working as a mental health panelist in Athletics.
The OU organized a webinar on Wednesday evening entitled “Trainer + Mental Health: Creating a Mentally Good Place in College Athletics”. It was run by people from the Office of Psychological Resources in the Athletic Department.
But Gasso pushed him away.
“I’m shocked,” said the OU softball coach. “I shuddered and thought, ‘What if I’m a coach on the other side? What can I do for that coach? Do they need help? Will they get help?’
“I have a lot of questions.”
With so much going on at Marita Hynes Field during the Bedlam series, many in the college softball world are focusing on what’s going on in the hearts and minds of players across the country. The suicide of James Madison catcher Lauren Burnett has caused a stir in sports. Last season, she was part of Duke’s Magic Run in the Women’s College World Series, which caught breakout star Odikki Alexander, but this season, Burnett had her own breakout.
On Sunday, April 24, she completed Monster Weekend, defeating Homer and two doubles 4-4-4 in the final of the series against Drexel. She hit .778 and scored seven runs in three-game sets.
On Monday, April 25, she was selected as the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week.
She was gone on Tuesday, April 26th.
Her last bat was a home run.
“Really sad,” said OSU coach Kenny Gajewski earlier this week with tears in his eyes. “That’s when we realized. That’s part of the problem.”
Burnett is the third Division-1 female player to commit suicide in less than two months. The first was Stanford soccer goalkeeper Katie Meyer on March 1. Then came Wisconsin sprinter Sarah Schulz on April 13th. After that, Burnett.
Will it be the last?
We hope so, but unfortunately, the evidence suggests that may not be the case. Campus suicide statistics are hard to come by. However, the Jade Foundation, a national non-profit organization working to prevent suicide and improve the emotional health of young people, shows that mental health challenges among college students have increased over the past five years.
College players are not immune.
In fact, being a player can increase their mental health challenges.
“I think these student-players are pushed and pushed,” Gaso said, “and they have a lot of plates that are spinning and trying to balance everything.”
Gasola knew this before the events of recent weeks, but after Burnett’s suicide, she asked OU psychologist Dolores Christensen to meet with the team. She took the Sunners to an activity where they were divided into small groups and shared how they felt.
Afterwards, Christensen asked if any players wanted to share with everyone.
Gasso was shocked by a certain emotion.
“Sometimes, I feel like I can’t breathe.”
So Gaso had to think about the routine of her players. Awakening exercise. Have breakfast Probably. Go to class for lunch. Probably. Go to practice Watch the video. Landed on the field. Practice for three hours. Go to night class or do homework.
“And it’s happening again and again,” Gaso said. “As much as they’re all trying to do the right thing, as coaches, we think we, too, will win that way.”
But during Kristensen’s session, Gasso became aware when she heard her players talking to them.
“You’re not going to win,” she thought. “We have to find better ways to do things.”
Last weekend, Gaso asked the players to write letters to their parents and guardians, explaining what those adults meant to them. But on their final regular-season road trip with the Sooners, Gasso had some fun for seniors and super seniors.
“They’re playing games, and they’re laughing, and they’re laughing so hard that security is coming into the room,” Gaso said.
“It’s fun to watch them have fun, not related to softball. They’re happy to win – they love to win – but it’s fun to watch them have fun in another space.” Make him more human than a robot. “
Gajewski is also striving for it. The Cowgirls coach has a 24-7 open-door policy.
“My phone never goes off,” he said.
But that player is not waiting to reach him. Gajewski is active in communicating and interacting with players. Contacting his players is the most important part of his training