Battleford North Stars are leading the mental health initiative
Battleford’s North Stars captain Jake Southgate helps raise awareness about mental health after losing his brother to suicide.
“It’s very close to home. About five years ago, my brother took his own life, so it’s kind of a big deal for me,” Southgate said, of why the team rallied behind a mental health partnership with “Better Together” this season.
Southgate grew up on a farm just outside Battleford, Sask. and shared how his hometown has helped him support others on the team this season.
“It’s a dream come true [to be the captain for my hometown team]. But that means I get to go home to my family every day. I have a good support system here. I can talk to them almost every day,” Southgate explains.
“So I try to talk to my teammates every day and let them know they can talk to me [if they are struggling] or anyone else on the team. We have a very good support system here in Battleford.”
Better Together was co-founded by Deb McNabb in 2019 after Battleford suffered a massive tragedy in 2018 when three seniors and five youth committed suicide in seven weeks.
“We dreamed about how we could connect generations and that’s how the ‘Better Together’ t-shirts were born. We dressed 150 seniors over 55 and 150 young people under 22. We created ‘Together Tuesdays’ and watched them connect through the logos on their shirts. We have [now] Seeing 3,000 citizens in Canada wear our shirts,” McNabb explained.
“We thought and dreamed about how to grow our message and got in touch with the SJHL and our local North Stars. We actually have three SJHL teams on board who all wear their jerseys on Tuesdays,” McNabb added.
This season is the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey Leagues [SJHL] North Stars held a competition for local youth to design a jersey with the past or current North Stars logo. They were challenged to come up with a charity to support their design.
The team then voted on which jersey they would wear a number of times this season.
“This one [we chose] had to do with mental health and the guys sort of rallied around that and thought that was a good idea, so then it sort of came to fruition,” Southgate said.
Kennedy Schmidt, marketing and office manager for the North Stars, told CTV News that this year’s campaign had some additional resonance for the team.
“It’s close to home for Jake and with him being our captain this year it’s been brought up. It just became something that was close to all the guys, so it worked out really well this year,” said Schmidt.
The winning jersey, featuring a special green color for mental health awareness, was designed by local 12-year-old Gabriella.
“I was told it is [a cause] very close to the team and I also thought it’s something that people struggle with and we should probably raise awareness about it,” Gabriella said, explaining why she chose mental health awareness for her design.
“I was totally blown away and super excited,” she added after hearing her design was chosen.
On Tuesday night, the team donned the jersey for the second time this season in their 9-3 victory over La Ronge during a special mental health awareness evening.
Both Gabriella and McNabb were present for the ceremonial puck drop with Southgate.
“We even have Jake’s old elementary school coming out for family home evening. Where a bunch of kids and students pack up the building as we really bring home our mental health initiative,” Schmidt explained ahead of Tuesday’s game.
“Before I dropped the puck, Jake was there and I hugged him and reminded him that I am so proud of him for being a mental health leader in his community,” McNabb recalled.
“It’s very personal to me and my family,” Southgate said. “We are very proud of mental health and all that. We’ve worked with Deb, she’s a great role model for the community. She’s a wonderful person.”
Southgate explained that he plays in memory of his brother, Trevor, every time he steps on the ice.
“I wear a necklace with his fingerprint on it, so everything I do is for him,” he said.
The North Stars are proving to be a force to be reckoned with this season as the team has suffered just three regulation losses and is first state in all of the SJHL.
Southgate noted that their success stems from both their physical and mental strength as a team.
“I think our team does a really good job of making sure everyone is comfortable and okay, both off the ice and in the dressing room,” said Southgate.
“It’s all about mental health here and that translates to success on the ice.”
The Better Together initiative and the North Star’s involvement come as the SJHL raises awareness around player mental health and wellness.
“’Together We Are Better’ is a Canadian Junior Hockey League [CJHL] initiative with the Canadian Mental Health Association. There are nine leagues in the CJHL and it delivers [every one of them] supports athletes around positive mental health and suicide awareness,” SJHL Commissioner, Kyle McIntyre, told CTV News.
“It’s a stressful environment when you compete and you want to be at your best and unfortunately not every day as an athlete is his or her best. So you have to be able to understand it and how to deal with it or deal with it,” McIntyre added.
The North Stars plan to wear their special mental health jerseys for at least three more home games before auctioning them off to fans.