PEORIA, AZ — Three years ago, Tracy von Aspen’s 17-year-old son Carson took his own life. Since that day, the Peoria mom has made it her mission to make sure student-athletes get the support they need.
“For us, athletics are knitted into our family and that’s where we think we can have the biggest impact,” von Aspen said.
Carson was an accomplished athlete and varsity basketball player who had just graduated from Glendale Preparatory Academy. Not long after his passing, von Aspen started ‘Carson’s Crusaders 5,' an annual basketball tournament raising money to not only offset the cost of students joining athletic programs but provide them counseling if needed. The next event is on Dec. 18.
“It will talk about mental health and resiliency,” von Aspen said. “It will talk about suicide prevention and it will talk about how to build each other up within the program.”
The program, which , according to von Aspen, teaches students about building resilience, should be embedded into athletic programs across the Valley.
“We’re giving them life skills they can use way beyond high school,” she said.
It’s something she’s already seen taking shape at Mountain Ridge High School where her daughter Lauren is now a senior.
Lauren is captain of the volleyball team and secretary of the track and field club. She says the school recently started a new initiative, called the Student Athlete Leadership Team. It’s a program aimed at getting the community involved in high school sporting events while teaching students to become leaders.
“What to do to fill other people’s tanks. That’s what we kind of talked about,” she said. “How do you get your team going? How do you support people when they’re at their lowest? So, when everyone’s equipped with those tools on how to do it, it makes things so much easier especially with moral and chemistry.”
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of young people taking their own lives has risen by nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018. In Arizona, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34.
Many are student-athletes like Carson, referencing a local Facebook support group for parents, according to von Aspen.
“To see the numbers and it was just name after name after name and their stories are very similar,” von Aspen said.
She hopes the positive changes at Glendale Prep will serve as a model for all schools across the Valley.
“I think putting those programs into athletic activities and really training those coaches for looking and identifying things when the kids struggle when they’re maybe going through a season where they’ve had a transitional season and they’re losing a lot of their games. That morale, talking with those kids about what their plans are after athletics end and what that looks like moving forward and how do you teach your athletes to be resilient,” von Aspen said.
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