BURNT HILLS — For good reason, Katie Kerner says “mental health is near and dear to me.”
A Shenendehowa graduate, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ lacrosse coach played for Le Moyne College until she graduated in 2019.
One of her friends on the Dolphins’ men’s lacrosse team died by suicide last year, and Le Moyne lacrosse recently dedicated a game to the Morgan’s Message program that “amplifies stories, resources, and expertise to confront student-athlete mental health, builds a community by and for athletes, and provides a platform for advocacy,” according to its mission statement.
Kerner’s Burnt Hills team will follow suit on Saturday when they play host to Albany Academy in an 8:30 a.m. non-league game.
The players will wear specially made blue T-shirts with the Morgan’s Message butterfly logo on the back and blue ribbons; there will be an announcement before the game; and, fans are asked to wear blue in support of the effort to eliminate the negative stigma associated with mental illness, and promote equal treatment of both physical and mental health issues that athletes experience.
“It’s so common in athletics, especially at a young age, so my goal is to make my players aware of it,” Kerner said. “I think, at a young age, if we can show them the signs of it, we can let them know it’s OK to not be OK, and let them know how to get help. Hopefully, eventually, put an end to this. But the main reason is to let them know that those who suffer are not alone.
“It starts with organization like this, spreading the word, spreading awareness.”
Morgan’s Message is named for Morgan Rodgers, a Duke University lacrosse player who died by suicide in 2019, after having attempted to work her way back from a devastating knee injury suffered during her sophomore season.
The Morgan’s Message butterfly logo is modeled after her artwork.
Kerner said she expects her players will also write Rodgers’ jersey No. 9 on their arms for the Academy game.
“Mental illness has always been around, but we have to be more cautious of it,” she said. “I guess you could say that, now more than ever is the time to let young athletes know the signs of mental illness, [and] if they see it in a friend or a teammate, that the resources are available and that we’re here for them.
“The whole stigma, especially in athletes, is you have to be tough, you have to have a thick skin. Playing in high school and college, I realized there are times where that tough skin breaks, and you need your teammates for that, but you also need to know that it’s OK to have those moments, and that everyone does.”