"Depression comes at you like a wave," says Steve Garwood, who suffers from it himself. "It's not anything you see coming. You can't plan for it. You just have to ride it out." He rejects the assertion that Chad's suicide had anything to do with football or with Winthrop's keen interest in sports. "My son loved his team and his coaches," he says. "His best years were in football. If there's any connection, it may be that you have to have no fear to play football ... or to commit suicide."
Experts worry that the macho culture of football might not only muffle a healthy sense of self-preservation in youths but also discourage at-risk players from seeking professional counseling when they're depressed. The vernacular common to the football field--"Suck it up ... shake it off ... play through the pain"--sends a dangerous message if the pain is emotional.
"We have to pay attention to the emotional needs of players too," says Turner, Winthrop's AD. "Don't stereotype them. We've told the kids, 'If you know of a teammate, or anyone, who's struggling with emotional problems, break the code of silence. Give him the number of the help hotline. Reach out to an adult.'"
To help prepare high school athletes for life beyond their small pond, Stoneton has started a program called Beyond the Cheers, in which once a year a former Winthrop player who's succeeded in a field outside of sports returns to talk about his experiences after football. "Owners of insurance companies and car dealerships," Stoneton says. "They can talk about how life gets harder after high school."
In its grief and search for answers, the Winthrop community has pulled together. Most people in town still strongly support the high school football team, which this season went 5-4. They are talking, teaching and trying to learn as much as they can about one of the most complex and tragic forms of human behavior. "Suicide is not a virus," says O'Halloran. "It can't be stopped by a vaccine. But suicide prevention does work, and talking can be therapeutic."
Still, cruelly, tragedy continues to plague Winthrop and its football team. On Nov. 5 a one-car automobile accident took the life of another former Ramblers star, Jason (Bub) Ruman, an all-conference defensive end in 2003 and a former teammate of Chad Garwood's. Ruman had been drinking and was driving at high speed when his car flipped over and struck a utility pole. Two female passengers in the car survived the crash.
So Winthrop is grieving again. It will be months, perhaps years, before some residents can look to the future without a measure of dread. "Every time the phone rings, I worry," says Van Wart. "I've talked to some of Chad's and Mox's and Lee's teammates, and they say, 'This is enough. I'm not going to any more funerals.' There's an air of anger and disgust at the way they say it, too. They're 22 years old, and people who know them are looking at them like they might commit suicide. They're sick of it."
The National Suicide Prevention Initiative's hotline is 1-800-273-TALK. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's website is www.afsp.org.