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South Valley Journal

Jazz players surprise Herriman Hope squad during basketball game

Mar 06, 2019 11:19AM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Hope Squad with Jazz at game. (Courtesy Jordan School District)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected] 

Two Utah Jazz players took time out of their day to stop in at Herriman High to lend support to the school’s Hope Squad, which works year-round to help prevent teen suicide in their communities. 

Jazz players Ekpe Udoh and Tyler Cavanaugh surprised the students during a basketball game in February.

Representatives with the Utah Jazz said the players wanted to recognize those students for their efforts, so they made a surprise stop at the school before a basketball game between Herriman and rival Riverton.

After the surprise at the beginning of the game, the members of the Hope Squad, along with Udoh and Cavanaugh, went into the choir room to discuss the serious issue of suicide. 

“They really were so ecstatic and happy to get to meet them,” said Herriman High Vice President Stewart Hudnall. “They congratulated them with what they are doing and shared some personal experiences.“

“What you all are doing is amazing,” Udoh told the Hope Squad. “It’s so courageous and important, looking out for each other, especially with what has happened.”

Udoh and Cavanaugh gave the students Utah Jazz hats and tickets to an upcoming game, one for them and one for someone who they think could use a night with a friend.

Udoh also gave each student a copy of Nicole Russell’s book, “Everything a Band-Aid Can’t Fix” and an offer to work with the group in the future.

“I want to give myself and my platform to y’all,” Udoh said. “This is a conversation that should be had on a national level. And when we found out about this, we were eager to come here and see the faces that are making an impact on a grassroots level."

After the session with the Hope Squad, Udoh stayed to watch the remainder of the game, pledging his support to the Herriman team, said Hudnall. 

The Herriman High Hope Squad works throughout the year to listen to their peers, provide much-needed support and to give hope to those suffering from suicidal thoughts. 

During the 2017–2018 school year, Herriman High School lost six students to suicide just in the first five months of of the year. 

“It was emotionally draining,” said Hudnall in the press release. “It was really hard. Our school and our students are like our surrogate families. Losing one of them really is like losing a family member.”

Utah ranks fifth in the nation for highest number of suicides and is now the leading cause of death for children aged 10–17. There is no doubt the manner in which suicides have sharply been increasing has gripped our state with fear, but it has also created an outpouring of support and determination to find a solution. 

KayCee DeYoung is a theater teacher at Herriman High School. She says the last year was tough.

"We care about these kids," said DeYoung. "We're not here because of the paycheck. We're not here for any glory or fame. We're not here other than because we love our students. We want them to be happy."

South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey released a statement after Jordan School District officials agreed to pour $1 million into suicide prevention and awareness, saying as a parent she has seen first-hand the great efforts of their young people, teachers, counselors administrators, parents and members of the Herriman High community to combat suicide. 

"I appreciate all Jordan School District is doing by taking such significant action districtwide," said Ramsey. "At their Board Meeting this past Tuesday, I heard nationally renowned expert Dr. Scott Polland applaud the significant efforts of the district, saying it is extremely rare for a school district to go to such great lengths to prevent suicide." 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255.