Volleyball tournament brings light to men's mental health
HomeHome > News > Volleyball tournament brings light to men's mental health

Volleyball tournament brings light to men's mental health

May 16, 2023

GRANDVIEW, Ohio — Katy Gamertsfelder and Bridget Readey will never forget 2021.

The two friends were teammates of a lively, fun-loving, outdoorsy man named Alex Wilhelm, 30, who took his own life on March 8th.

“It was one of the most traumatic, I mean, I think we both can, we can remember the day like it was yesterday, unfortunately,” said Readey, a friend of Willhelm’s.

Volleyball brought the group together in 2019 as they played in a recreational league together at Woodland’s Backyard every Wednesday. But their friendship extended beyond the sand courts. They all became great friends and went camping, hiking and celebrated birthdays together.

Willhelm’s death came as a shock to the friends as they said it seemed like he had everything going for him. They described him as the life of the party and said he came from a great family and had a stable job.

“He was always buying rounds, buying rounds of drinks for people, he was the coach on our team, you know, he'd always given pointers and bring his dog and go on hikes,” said Katy Gamertsfelder, a friend of Willhelm’s. “You wouldn't think that someone that's this active, and that's in a huge, huge, huge friend and support group, has a beautiful family, that would, that would feel that way, that he had no escape, and it just was an awakening for us.”

Gamertsfelder and Readey felt compelled to bring light to men’s mental health and the stigmas surrounding it. In honor of their late friend, they started a volleyball tournament the year he died called "Spike the Stigma, MENd the Mind." Three years later, the annual tournament continues to bring awareness to men’s mental health and provides resources and support to those who need it.

“It affects more people than we are aware of,” Gamertsfelder said. “So I think that kind of got across last year. And that's why the turnout was so big. We had, we had guys, women, you know, people coming up to saying, you know, I had my cousin, my brother, my daughter, my son, you know, it's terrible. And the point is to talk about it.”

Nearly 400 players are expected to take part in this year’s all-day tournament with hundreds more coming to watch. Gamertsfelder and Readey raised $17,000 in year one, $30,000 in year two and are hoping to raise $50,000 this year. All proceeds go to organizations in central Ohio working in suicide prevention and awareness, such as The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation and Cornerstone of Hope.

“Everyone has things, whether it's your, your family, or your friends or your job, and just like stress, and like maybe it's multiple little things that build over time, but like everyone has, everyone has those things and just like not being, like not assuming that your problems aren't relatable,” Readey said.

Every year, the tournament has gotten bigger as they gain more support from the community. This year’s tournament will be the biggest yet. Gamertsfelder and Readey have planned food vendors, a silent auction for gift baskets and local art, 50/50 raffle baskets, a Jeep stacking event, a live Dj and mental health resources.

Gamertsfelder and Readey want to break the stigma surrounding mental health among everyone, but especially men. Although all genders are affected by mental illness, it is often overlooked in males. Mental health among men often goes untreated because they are far less likely to seek mental health treatment than women.

The rate of suicide is highest in middle-aged white men, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They accounted for nearly 70% of suicide deaths in 2021, at a rate nearly 4 times that of women.

“There's so many things nowadays, whether it comes down to like men, like, you know, men can't wear pink or like men can't cry or you know, and it's just like, it's so sickening to hear because especially as two women, right? Like we, you know, we have the right to talk about our emotions or we're crazy because we cry but like there are men that honestly would rather like end their own life than talk about the way they feel and I just like I'm not having it,” Readey said.

Gamertsfelder and Readey want all men to know it’s ok to speak up, it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be human. Their friend lost his life to suicide, but they hope his story inspires others to live out theirs.

“We miss him every day. And we hope that he's, you know, I know, I feel like in my heart he's saved other lives because of everything that he inspired,” Gamertsfelder said.

The volleyball tournament is at Woodlands Backyard in Grandview and goes all day until about 11 p.m., or when the last game has ended.

If you or anyone you know is struggling, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is free and available 24/7. Just call or text 988.