A month to the day since the body of 13-year-old Emma Pangelinan of the OC Batbusters organization was found at a park in Mission Viejo, California, and ruled a suicide, a collection of the top influencers in softball have announced the formation of the Health and Wellness Consortium (HAWC) to help develop national and local strategies to increase awareness of health and wellness education for players, parents, and coaches.
Mike Stith, leader of the OC Batbusters organization, is collaborating with the softball community to create long-term change in health and wellness for the sport.
"This tragedy will be the impetus for change," Stith said. "We are coming together with a common goal of raising the standards in the areas of health and wellness for our families to better enjoy their softball experience."
These significant contributors include Jen Schroeder of The Packaged Deal; Tony Rico of the Firecrackers organization; Stith and Tim Shockey with the OC Batbusters; Dr. Casey Cooper, a subject matter expert in counseling youth; and Dr. Suzy McNulty, a pediatrician.
"There is an important message we need to share regarding developing our student-athletes’ self-worth: ‘Perfection is not only not attainable, but dangerous. Perfection should not be the goal; rather, their personal best,’” said McNulty, who is also a softball coach with two daughters who play the sport.
The Health and Wellness Consortium has also confirmed interest and support from local USA Softball influencers and will reach out to all associations for their support.
One of those important governing bodies is Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) and its President, Dan Hay.
“I hope all associations will participate in this collaborative group," Hay said. "PGF is committed to our mission to provide relevant and accurate information to all families in health and wellness.”
The HAWC will work with all national associations, medical experts, administrators, coaches, and players. The leaders of the Health and Wellness Consortium say they will have a long-term strategy with a multi-phased rollout.
The Health and Wellness Consortium has revealed a four-step action plan:
1. Identify relevant and accurate education.
2. Provide a standardized framework for local communities to disseminate information.
3. Develop a national calendar to tackle this multi-faceted issue through local events and online education services.
4. Educate the coaches and empower the players and parents to create the change on the local level.
It’s all critical, according to the HAWC leaders, that the information needs to be free to all families.
Teen suicide has become a nationwide epidemic and in Pangelinan’s home area, Orange County, the American Academy of Pediatrics — one of the organizations the HAWC will work with frequently — announced this month that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.
According to licensed sports psychologist Casey Cooper, Ph.D., “The most recent data suggests 40 percent of youth identify as perfectionists and is a newly emerging risk factor when assessing for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Given the intensely competitive culture of athletics, it is critical to the safety of our adolescent athletes that we actively seek new ways to cultivate a culture of excellence for our parent and coaches.”
Tragically, this wasn’t just an isolated incident specific to the sport of softball.
Since Pangelinan’s death a month ago, there have been two additional teen suicides committed by well-known athletes in Orange County. In addition, there was a fourth suicide by a college football player from Orange County just prior to Pangelinan’s suicide.
The focus of the HAWC, according to its leaders, is to have it serve as a tool for everyone to use. It will be important to provide this information and strategies to implement the education for all families, free of charge.
By Brentt Eads