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Volume 27 No. 10
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Inside Hilinski's Hope Foundation's Mission Around Mental Health

The Hilinski family's foundation has a mission to advance mental health services for student-athletes
Photo: MARC BRYAN-BROWN
The Hilinski family's foundation has a mission to advance mental health services for student-athletes
Photo: MARC BRYAN-BROWN
The Hilinski family's foundation has a mission to advance mental health services for student-athletes
Photo: MARC BRYAN-BROWN

Athletic departments are improving their mental health services for student athletes, and education remains crucial to that mission. That was the message from Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman and Mark and Kym Hilinski, who appeared together on Day 1 of the '19 Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. The Hilinski family started Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, which has a mission to advance mental health services for student-athletes. They created the foundation in '18 following the tragic death of their son Tyler, a former Washington State QB, who suffered from depression. Kym Hilinski broke down the mission of the foundation: “The first was to raise awareness, and we’re trying to do that as we go out and speak with schools. The second is to erase the stigma that’s attached to mental illness. These student-athletes should know that it’s okay to speak up and say, ‘I’m not feeling well,’ and it’s a spectrum.” Mark Hilinski said, “There's a million analogies, but you wouldn't let a kid, a player, take the court or the field with a torn ACL. So, why would we ever expect somebody with a mental illness to do the same?”

RAISING AWARENESS: The parents offered a powerful perspective on the resources that are available after some 30 recruiting trips with Tyler and their other son Ryan, a QB at South Carolina. Mark Hilinksi said, “The resources between mental illness and physical illnesses are very different. And I think we're trying to bring us up to talking about this in the same way, treating it the same way and resourcing it much the same way.”

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUD: On increasing those resources, Ackerman offered a commissioner’s perspective: “Coaching awareness and training I think is critically important. … We can all do more online. You may not be able to fly a coach anywhere to get the training, but we’ve embarked on some online training again that could, if nothing else, just sensitize a coach to the spectrum, because anxiety is one thing but schizophrenia and something worse is entirely different. They’re all different, in terms of how you would respond and the severity and so forth. So, I think just basic education.” Ackerman added, “To keep it at the board level at your conference or your school I think is really important. That’s where we started it. There was no descent.” Toward the end of the panel, Mark Hilinski said candidly, “We find room to have 12 different uniform combinations within the team. We get it. It’s for the fans and to bring people in and that’s part of the financial cycle that everybody’s into. But you really need two different colored black helmets and three different colored red helmets and ten different colored white? There’s money there and being able to find it creatively is a terrific idea.”