Blue Waves’ Deanna North pitches positive mental health to student athletes

Riverhead High School senior and varsity softball captain Deanna North, 18, has teamed up with Hope for Athletes to organize a “student athlete mental health awareness” softball game May 9. She also plans to attend other Riverhead spring sports games to include all athletes in her cause.

At the games, which cover six team sports, Deanna will share her story and spread the message that it’s okay to ask for help when struggling with mental health.

Athletes will wear either green shoelaces or green wristbands, the official color of Hope for Athletes, during the games to show support and raise awareness for those struggling with mental health issues. At the May 9 softball game, Deanna and her team will don green socks and custom jerseys with the Hope for Athletes logo and the message “Human Over Athlete.” There will also be merchandise for sale at all the games to raise money for the organization.

Deanna started to put together these events at the beginning of the school year in September. She said the community is welcome to attend the games and that she will invite the Board of Education, principal Sean O’Hara, athletic director Brian Sacks and all the school psychologists and counselors to the game.

Deanna was inspired to organize these events after she stumbled across “Hope for Athletes” Instagram account while scrolling the social media platform. Hope for Athletes was founded by Amanda Dahlman, a mental health counselor and former student athlete. The goal of the organization is to encourage athletes to voice their mental health struggles and journeys via social media to help others.

“I saw all the athletes sharing their mental health stories and it really spoke to me because I realized I wasn’t the only one going through all these struggles as an athlete,” Deanna said. “I contacted them, and I really wanted to work with them for this game because I think mental health is so important especially in sports, and I shared my story on their Instagram to reach out to other athletes in this community and also my college has seen it. If it’s touched one athlete, then I’ve done my job.”

In her story featured on their Instagram page titled, “Not a Superhero,” she details a particularly difficult junior year of high school.

“I struggled with mental health more than I would have ever imagined,” she wrote. “I constantly felt drained and mentally absent. I would wake up every day trying to make it to the next one. I struggled with keeping up with my schoolwork and my performance in softball. And usually, softball was the one escape I had from school and my struggles, but then softball felt like the one thing I needed to escape.”

Rich Vlacci, the girls varsity softball team head coach, said he hopes this helps unite student athletes across the board.

“By [Deanna] going to these games and us supporting them and saying hey, we are one in all of this, we are all athletes, we are all Riverhead athletes, we are all part of this same journey, I think it’s going to really bring all sports, golf, tennis, track, baseball, boys and girls sports together and bring us to a community where we are all student over athlete,” Mr. Vlacci said.

Mr. Vlacci said this is “the start of a lot of amazing things to come.” He said they are also planning a game to raise awareness for those affected by cancer as well.

“We plan as a team this year to do a lot of stuff like that and really show the pride that we have for being Riverhead students and teachers and athletes and coaches…being a community member and a former Riverhead grad — this community is amazing. They get behind the students here, the athletes here and I think that this is going to be great for not only the students here but the community as a whole to just see the great stuff that is going on here at Riverhead.”

The dates for the games are:

Varsity boys tennis, April 9 at 4:30 p.m.

Varsity girls lacrosse, April 11 at 4 p.m.

Varsity boys lacrosse, April 30 at 5:15 p.m.

Unified basketball, May 1 at 5 p.m.

Varsity boys baseball, May 8 at 4:15 p.m.

Varsity girls softball, May 9 at 4:30 p.m.