Sophie’s Squad uses hockey to address youth mental health crisis

After the sudden and unexpected death of Sophie Welland this summer, her colleagues and coaches have begun to raise awareness about mental health.

Circle Pines, Minnesota – When you host a hockey game at Centennial Hill Murray Thursday night, the ball will land in honor of 14-year-old Sophie Welland of Sartell, who made a difference in the lives of both teams’ players.

“She was always the guy on the rink who would have a smile on her face,” said Alexis Larsen, a new Centennial student.

“Sure, whenever she entered the room she was always smiling,” said Carly Griffin, an eighth grader at Hill Murray. “It lit up the whole room.”

Griffin and Larsen are among the many players from both Centennial and Hill Murray who shared the ice with Sophie as part of the Skate to Excellence travel team this summer.

“She was always positive and encouraging to everyone,” Larsen said. “When someone got down on the bench, she was there for you and always gave you extra encouragement.”

But Sophie’s friends and teammates didn’t know that Sophie was silently struggling with her mental health. In July, near the end of the summer season, Sophie committed suicide.

“I remember, I fell in love, I fell to the floor,” said eighth grader Hale Murray, Eli Petronk. “It was very shocking.”

“I spoke to her the day before and she was still smiling, still happy,” said Centennial senior student Brooke Bogos. “I mean, we had conversations, she sat next to me in the locker room, and I had no idea what she was going through.”

Sophie’s classmates weren’t alone.

“No one had an idea and no one had any idea,” said Sophie’s mother, Amy Welland. “I mean, some days I still can’t believe it, it actually happened.”

Welland says her daughter has many interests and friends. She says Sophie also seemed excited about the future.

“She was a happy, kind, generous soul,” Amy Welland said. “She was hard working, always looking out for everyone, and didn’t leave a message until after her death until she left a message that explained that she had been struggling for about three years and hadn’t told anyone. If I had just known a small part of the love people had for her… I wish she had known. that “.

It’s a shared wish with former coach Sophie Terry Hughes.

“I promised (Sophie’s mother) we’d do something about it,” Hughes said.

After Sophie’s untimely death, just before a major tournament, Hughes decided to fulfill that promise by working with his players and their families to start a group called The Sophie Squad.

“It wasn’t about hockey,” Hughes said. “It was about how to take care of these kids.”

Sophie’s Squad started with the goal of helping her bandmates record with each other. The team also worked on remembering Sophie with special helmet stickers. Within a few weeks, the group decided to raise awareness – and money – at the annual end-of-year golf tournament.

Once the high school season started, talk of Sophie’s squad spread even further. The group created special merchandise and hosted special events in hockey games. target now? Fundraising and awareness raising on issues dedicated to improving the mental health of young people.

“I think it’s been overlooked that kids really feel. I mean, they have a lot of responsibilities and pressure on them,” said Karis Weandt, a sophomore at Hill Murray.

In recent weeks, the surgeon general in the United States has worked to bring more attention to the issue. A rare consultation titled “Protecting the Mental Health of Young People” cited a disturbing statistic for young girls. By early 2021, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for teenage girls than for the same period in 2019.

Sophie’s squad spoke to KARE11 about what girls are dealing with during the pandemic and beyond.

“Social media is an important thing,” Petronac said. “Everyone wants to be perfect, like to look that way, feel that way.”

“It’s a lot of pressure,” Griffin said. “School, sports management, friends, family and all of those things…it’s a lot of things.”

“I feel kind of exhausted at times and I can tell that my mental health is probably having a negative effect,” Weandt said. “It just depends on the day.”

“It can be especially challenging because the game of hockey affects your mental and physical health,” said Hannah Thompson, a sophomore at Centennial.

“You want to be the best and perfect in everything and that’s really hard,” little Katie Booth said on Centennial. “Having a game like this gives you a better understanding of why we play hockey. It’s a community.”

And this community does not stop at the high school level.

“I’m going to do everything I can to show them it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay not to be okay,” said UMD senior striker Gabe Hughes, who helped coach Sophie, alongside her father this summer.

In January, Hughes and her UMD team will host a Sophie’s Squad game in Duluth.

“When I was in high school, I had mental issues and that wasn’t something you would talk about to anyone,” Hughes said. “It’s university level too. The girls I know, and I, are very hard to talk about, but I play in the first division of the school and I’m living a dream and I’m still struggling all the time. That’s exactly it. It happens, and it’s okay.”

For Sophie’s family, having this discussion is more than acceptable.

It means everything,” Amy Welland said. “Because you just don’t want her name to be forgotten.”

Sophie’s Squad event will begin at the Centennial Sports Arena on Thursday, December 23, with a JV game at 5 p.m., followed by a special squash drop at 7. The public is encouraged to wear teal to support mental health. consciousness.

For more information, including how to host Sophie’s Squad event, click here.

Use these additional resources if you or someone you know is facing a mental health crisis:

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