When 15-year-old Morgan Urso received $1,209.87 from her Team Illinois hockey club last year, her parents told her that the money belonged to her and that she could do whatever she wanted with it.
I didn’t care where the money went, Urso said. I just wanted to make sure it was for a good cause.
She got a phone call that season. Coach Urso told her to take a team vacation. The adults discussed how she should shape her life. She lost friends, some teammates didn’t know what to say to her. She didn’t go to school anymore and started to lose her love for hockey.
Urso felt banished – and it all started because she was honest in her feelings. I want people to be better educated, Urso said. Because no child should have to go through what I’ve been through.
Urso lives in the Chicago area and watches many Blackhawks games. Last season Robin Lehner, then Blackhawks goalkeeper, wore a mask with #SameHere on the side, which he hoped would help remove the stigma of madness.
#SameHere is an expression that means I’ve had trouble in life too. # These problems have affected my mental health. It is a sign of what hopefully unites the world to normalize the universality of this issue once and for all.
– Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) 13. August 2019.
Ursos was looking for charitable support for Lehner, #SameHere Global Mental Health Movement, and it was perfect for them. You have exactly 1,209.87 The peculiarity of this amount has aroused the interest of #SameHere’s founder, Eric Cusin, who spoke with Ursos. As soon as he heard about Urso’s story, he told Lenaire.
Wearing a mask is a wake-up call, showing that many people are fighting this phenomenon, that they are all hiding and trying to normalize it, so that more people come out of hiding and seek help, Lener said. But her story itself is a big problem. The uneducated society as a whole does not take us forward. … It’s about business, about responsibility. That’s why people don’t come forward and it’s so difficult to disentangle the problem.
Urso’s experience shows how important it is for renowned athletes such as Lehner, Kevin Love and Duck Prescott to participate in their mental health journeys, as this can inspire the next generation to speak out in public.
However, their history also shows that there are still opportunities to de-stigmatize mental illnesses, especially at the root, where attention and responsibility are largely lacking.
Urso grew up in LaGrange, Illinois and started hockey in the fifth grade. Her goal was to make Team Illinois one of the largest AAA Tier I programs in the region, and she worked two years to achieve that goal. In May 2019 she made the jump to the team under 16 years old.
The following August Urso opened a new high school and the transition was difficult. I always told myself that all I had to do was go to school and that everything would be all right, Urso says. But when I was in high school, that’s not all I had in mind. And when I realized that, I went into the lowlands.
She wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. She couldn’t find motivation for schoolwork. I didn’t feel like myself, she said. I wanted to go to hockey, but I forced myself to go to hockey. During training she often lay on ice and counted the minutes to the end. Another 58 minutes. Another 57 minutes.
Urso’s parents arranged for her to see a psychiatrist. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and prescribed certraline, an antidepressant, and trazodone, a sleeping pill. But one night after the match Urso came out of the shower and stood in the hallway crying. Are you okay? His mother, Kelly, asked him. What’s going on here?
Morgan fell into his mother’s arms. I think I need more help, she said. I just need a little help.
At the beginning of November Urso left school and started an outpatient program. By sitting on the ice and being close to his hockey buddies, he got a normal feeling. Her doctors also encouraged her to do so. Physical exercise was useful, as was social interaction in a team environment.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Hockey used to be a welcome break from everyday problems, but it has also become a stressful situation. Mackenzie Russell
After the first day of the outpatient program, Urso participated in a weekend tournament with the Illinois team in Detroit. But the next Monday Urso said she didn’t want to go to practice. Kelly Urso thought it would be a good idea to arrange a meeting with the coach of the team, Larry Pedry.
Morgan Urso, Kelly Urso and Pedry met on Wednesday in the dressing room for a private conversation. Morgan said it sometimes looked like a fight to go to hockey, but she was better when she was there. She was honest about everything – about her medication, the outpatient program, her thoughts about suicide.
According to Kelly Urso, Pedry told Morgan that he had no experience with mental illness and didn’t know what to do. However, if hockey is useful, he said, then somehow she has to come along. He said if you need anything, call, Morgan Urso remembered. If you don’t want to skate during the game, you can be my assistant coach on the bench.
Morgan left the meeting with a good feeling. I thought he was so supportive, she said. I had a feeling everything was gonna be okay.
But the next day Urso received a phone call from Pedry, who completely changed course. Urso was no longer allowed to train or play and was told that she could not communicate with any of her teammates. Pedry turned to the Amateur Ice Hockey Association of Illinois (AHAI), the governing body for ice hockey in Illinois, for advice. That was their policy. According to Ursos, two teammates of the U19 team made a suicide pact a few years ago and the organization thought it would be best if Morgan wasn’t surrounded by teammates to avoid such a thing.
The representatives of Pedry and AHAI did not respond to the numerous requests for comments.
The family was in shock. It was a matter of Morgan’s own mental health; she never talked about influencing anyone. The tragedy happened many years ago, but the AHAI’s only response to prevent it was to isolate a 14-year-old girl from her teammates? What kind of education were they looking for? What kind of programming could they implement? The AHAI is the umbrella organization that must contribute to the development of the sport. It is also a not-for-profit activity, which means that the finances are public. It’s not an operation for Mom and Dad. According to the financial report for 2020, the organization has earned $4 million.
Kelly Urso spent the whole weekend trying to get in touch with someone… …someone who could give some answers. She contacted the AHAI and U.S. hockey officials and got no answer. Meanwhile Pedrie has sent an e-mail to all the other parents of the team, explaining that Morgan likes to get back on her feet when she is the positive, happy, smiling child we all know. The coach also wrote it down: We know that the last thing we want is for our children to be upset and carry the burden of a personal fight between teammates.
When team member Morgan showed a copy of the letter, she was furious. Does he have any idea how mental health works? She was curious.
The commentary on the indictment has stuck on her. No one with a mental problem can be considered a burden, she said. And that’s the goal I want to get rid of.
Kelly Urso finally got a call from Mike Mullie, an AHAI officer, who told her it was his decision to remove Morgan from the team. According to Kelly Urso, Mally has repeatedly stated that I’m just a hockey player and that all the facts about Morgan’s situation are wrong. (Moualli also did not respond to the request for comments). The AHAI informed Morgan that she could come back when she reached 100%.
What do you mean, 100%? Kelly Urso asked. What criteria does Morgan have to meet to rejoin the team?
The family didn’t get a hard reaction.
Morgan told his mother: This is what they do: If I was in a wheelchair, they say we can’t build a driveway to help you get up here, but if you get up here, we’ll support you no matter what. But I’m not in a wheelchair. I’m facing a mental health problem you don’t see.
No one who has a mental problem can be considered a burden, and that’s the mark I’m trying to get rid of.
Urso missed a month of the season, and the AHAI returned $1,209.87 for the time he missed. Urso has also received legal counsel and filed a discrimination claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights – against both the AHAI and Team Illinois – for Morgan’s exclusion on the grounds of his disability. The accusations are still being investigated.
Although Urso finally rejoined the Illinois team at the end of last season, the situation has changed. The parent of the team received a SafeSport certificate and followed Urso everywhere she went on the track, including in the dressing rooms. Kelly and Nick are instructed to be present at every training session or competition. External stressors weighed on Urso, and doctors advised him to take a break from hockey for his own well-being.
Urso hasn’t joined the Illinois team this season, she plays for both her new school and her new club. The club is in the lower division of the Illinois team, but Urso felt it was important to rediscover his love of hockey and regain his confidence this season. Before the season, she told her new coach everything that had happened in the previous season.
She was open to everything, Kelly Urso said. If you need anything, let us know. You told Morgan how great it was that she was so open.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Morgan says the track is now open for the new team. Mackenzie Russell
Urso often posts news about his mental health on Instagram, and his teammates tend to comment on it quickly with expressions of support.
The founder of #SameHere, Cussin, kept in touch with Ursos and decided to put Morgan in touch with Rob Shremp, a former NHL player who became the defender of #SameHere.
At the end of his playing career, when he was in Europe, he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. He published his diagnosis with his team. That’s what I was told: We’re not signing Rob because of his quote, his release, Shremp said. It was very disappointing. When I was looking for another job, and the day I started drawing, they said… We were told you were on medication and had an F in your head. I couldn’t believe what I was told.
When Shremp heard about Urso’s experience, he organized a FaceTime session with her in June.
When I heard Morgan’s story, I felt so bad, Shremp said. At the age of 31, I had to deal with these feelings of rejection and emotions. She’s been working on it since she was very young. I didn’t want one person or one team to influence her in such a way that she would crush her love for the game by giving her a completely false message. I wanted her to understand that there are good people in hockey.
Since then, they have corresponded or called each other at least once a week and have developed not only a mentoring relationship, but also a friendship based on a common understanding.
We’ve built a relationship where we know what we’re going through and we know how bad the days look, but we’re still here, Urso said. That’s what I am: I know this may sound strange, but I’m really glad it happened to you, too, because I know I’m not the only one here.
Throughout the season, Urso discovered time and again why she loves hockey, even though it’s not always easy.
Sometimes I still struggle with the motivation on the ice and the desire to be there, but now it’s a more positive place, she says. Being in a new program makes me feel safe, like I can talk about it. I don’t have to wear long sleeves all the time, I can show people my scars. I’m no longer afraid to be watched or judged.