Weather Forecast


Highway 10 Baseball Classic raises awareness of teen suicide

Neil Wrangham, Highway 10 Classic Baseball Tournament volunteer, presents a school grant award of $1,000 to Perham High School Counselor Sarah Benson and tournament organizer Dan Peterson. The grant was used by the high school for activities related to youth suicide education, awareness and prevention. Support from Arvig and KLN made the grant and tournament possible. Submitted photo

Anyone who has experienced the loss of a young one from suicide understands that the emotional costs demand involvement in suicide prevention.

The Highway 10 Baseball Classic Tournament, in collaboration with the Christopher Benz foundation, KLN Family Brands and Arvig, is working to have a positive impact with the goal of eliminating youth suicide by providing suicide education, awareness and prevention grants to schools, and by using the tournament to provide that education in a fun venue.

Perham High School hosted a suicide awareness presentation March 8 with the help of a grant from the 2012 Highway 10 Classic Baseball Tournament. About 460 students in grades 9-12 attended.

Speaking at the presentation was Maria Willits, whose son Jose (Ricky) Rodriguez-Carrillo committed suicide one month before he was due to graduate from Barnesville High School in 2009.

Willits shared her story about a day not too far from the day her son took his life.

He presented her with a drawing of an eagle and he paused after she praised him and thanked him, almost as if he was waiting for her to say more. It was not until after his death that she noticed there was another drawing on the other side, one with a bottle with all the hope draining out of it.

“One of the unfortunate things about suicide is during the day to day process of life we see and hear things but we are not in tune to it,” said Dan Peterson, Highway 10 Baseball Classic organizer and board member of Minnesota Communities for Suicide Prevention, a collaborative of the Christopher Benz Foundation. “After the suicide, we start looking back and thinking about some of the things that were said, or some of the things that were done, and start connecting those dots and we realize there were messages and we missed them. The big question that many times burdens us for life is…how could I have missed that?”

The vast majority of those thinking about suicide will find some way to signal their intent. Most suicidal people are looking for another option. They don’t want to die. But preventing suicide takes two people – a helper and the person at risk.

Students need to know that it’s OK for them to reach out for help. They also need to know that it is essential for them to talk with an adult if a friend is struggling and in need of help. When it comes to suicide, silence often has tragic results. Adults need to learn more about the signs of depression and suicide so they can help before more tragedies occur.

“In addition to the presentation, the grant also funded specialized suicide intervention training for our counseling and student outreach staff and materials to continue including suicide awareness into our curriculum at PHS,” said school counselor Sarah Benson.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Minnesota youth, second only to automobile accidents. A 2010 state school survey revealed that three percent of boys and three percent of girls in grades 9-12 have attempted suicide. That means in a school the size of Perham High School, approximately 13 students will have tried to commit suicide.

The Highway 10 Baseball Classic is an expansion of the Chris Benz Memorial Baseball Tournament.

On Jan. 11, 2007, Chris Benz died by suicide when he was 17 years old. He was a loving young man with lots of friends, family and a bright future. In the wake of his death, the lives of his family and friends were changed forever. His mother, Janet, and his classmates did not want his life to be defined by his death, so they started a baseball tournament in his memory.

“What we do with the tournament is solicit sponsorships from area businesses. These sponsorships help to cover some of the tournament and banquet costs. We use the banquet to educate the players and parents about suicide. The remainder is used to provide the grants to the various schools where the baseball teams came from,” said Peterson.

He added that, “So what we are able to do with the generosity of the sponsors is provide scholarships to the community schools in the amount of about $1,000 per school for suicide awareness education.”

Peterson said school programs and the tournament banquet have allowed more than 2,000 people to hear suicide education and prevention messages. Additionally, training provided to school staff will help identify at risk students and behaviors, so action can be taken and lives saved.

“We were very fortunate to have the support of KLN Family Brands and Arvig. Their generous donations made the tournament and scholarship grant possible” said Peterson.