By Pam Dudding
Spring has arrived and the Field of Dreams ballfield is packed for practices and games with many rec teams. Kids are elated that they get to play since the COVID mandate has been lifted.
However, it was heartbreaking to hear of a star player for JMU, Lauren Bernett, who lost her life to what the medical examiner for the Western District of Virginia ruled was suicide on April 25 (however, reports shared said the Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson is continuing an investigation).
Sadly, area news reported that this was the fifth college student-athlete to tragically commit suicide in the past two months. James Madison University chose to cancel the remainder of its softball season as the school tries to cope with the suicide of Bernett. Lauren Bernett was a sophomore catcher and cleanup hitter for the JMU Dukes.
College team members have been wearing a purple ribbon in their hair, the colors of JMU. At the Craig County Rockets verses Vinton game on Thursday, May 5, the other team’s coach suggested they honor Bernett’s memory by wearing the purple ribbons in their hair. Coach Stacey Fisher immediately agreed, and Gina Smith provided them for the Craig players as Vinton had theirs already.
On Saturday, both teams took a knee before the game in memory of Bernett, also holding up their fingers with the number 22, Bernett’s jersey number.
It was stated that her death, “Followed a stellar weekend series against Drexel, for which she was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s player of the week for batting .778 with seven RBIs and four runs in a three-game weekend sweep.”
“This was an extremely difficult decision and one that was not made lightly,” JMU coach Loren LaPorte stated in a news release of the cancellation. “We are so grateful for the support of our fans all season and for the love from the softball community during the past week. We will use this time to continue healing and to honor Lauren’s memory while finishing the academic semester strong.”
Vinton Coach Darren Conner shared, “We did this to honor Lauren, and her friends and family and to show support for all of them, plus to bring awareness to mental health and to show support to their JMU softball team.”
Fisher added that she shared with her team the story and the importance of awareness when the decision to wear the bows were made.
Life is so precious, and it is so very important for each of us to be aware of any signs of suicide. Don’t ever assume or take it lightly, as in our world of “today,” kids seem to be going through much more than we even know.
Blue Ridge Behavioral Health has many seminars and helpful websites to guide you to becoming more aware of suicidal signs. Feel free to contact them.
Sometimes, each of us need to slow down and take time to watch and listen, then to be involved in kids’ lives, even if it is just to attend a game (when you have no family playing), say hello to a kid, buy them a soda, talk, and laugh a little or just give them a smile and a needed hug.
You never know how much what we may think is ‘little’ could change the ‘life’ of a child. You may have just saved one.