Marlins open Mental Health Awareness Month with HS panel

May 2nd, 2023

MIAMI -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

To highlight the importance of mental and emotional wellness, , Jesús Sánchez and  with Bally Sports Florida broadcasters Kelly Saco and Rod Allen took part in a panel at John A. Ferguson High School. Joining them were Katherin Pla, a junior on the volleyball team, and Thomas Jicha, a senior on the baseball team. Other members of the football, swimming, baseball and volleyball teams also attended the event, which was held at the school's media center.

"I wish I would have had this in high school," Garrett said. "The thing about mental health, it wasn't something that I really thought about. I didn't fail a ton going up in high school and baseball. I wish I would have known how to deal with failure a little bit better once it came, because for everybody, it's going to come."

The panel was part of the Great Minds Great Athletes program, which aims to provide support for student-athletes, parents, coaches and school administration. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Mental Health and Student Services at Miami-Dade County Public Schools recognized the prevalence of mental health, according to assistant superintendent Sally Alayon.

In the three years since partnering with Miami-Dade County Schools, the program has grown from nine to 45 schools. The Positive Coaching Alliance, which provides research-based training and resources for coaches, parents, athletes and leaders to ensure a positive youth development experience for all kids, has reached 15,000 individuals through nearly 300 workshops since 2020, per southeast program manager Banks Adebanjo.

"That makes us feel really good about the value of the program and the number of student-athletes that we're reaching," Marlins president of business operations Caroline O'Connor said.

Saco and Allen asked the panel a range of questions, opening with a big one: How do they deal with the challenge of staying positive in tough times? Both the Marlins and student-athletes agreed it was a combination of trusting in hard work and relying on one's support system.

"Thankful for my loving family, my loving wife that has been really supportive," Soler said via Saco. "We're all going to go through struggles. And even though you might work hard, you're going to see struggles, and things aren't going to go your way. But stay focused on the hard work that you have put in, day in and day out."

Another important topic revolved around the knowledge they wish they had at a younger age.

"I wish I had a different mentality as a 15-year-old kid than I have now," Sánchez said via Saco, "and I think a lot of that comes with maturity, too, just growing up."

When the panel opened up for questions, a student-athlete who had sustained an ACL injury asked about the difficulty of coming back from one. Garrett, who underwent Tommy John surgery during his first year in pro ball, pointed to his scar. Another student-athlete wanted to know if any one person was responsible for rallying the ball club from a four-run deficit in Atlanta last Thursday (it was a collective effort).

Saco also imparted advice she hoped would serve as an important reminder to the teenagers:

"You are not your sport. Your sport's what you do," said Saco, who played softball at Miami Palmetto High and Syracuse University. "It's not who you are. It's not your whole life. It's not your whole personality. There's so many things that you are outside of your sport."