This year’s Alex McLaughlin Memorial Tournament brought 16 basketball teams together for the support of mental health awareness.
The second annual event, which was held from Aug. 14 to 16 at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, was a tribute to the late Alex McLaughlin, an Acadia University basketball player who committed suicide in 2014 after battling mental illness.
“The mission behind it was to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention,” his twin sister, Julie McLaughlin, said.
There were eight men’s and women’s teams at the tournament. Among the players in the tournament were 15 athletes from the University of New Brunswick.
McLaughlin said most teams included current and former Atlantic University Sport athletes, along with professional players from the National Basketball League.
During the tournament, McLaughlin said, funds were raised for the Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI) through donations and by selling tournament passes.
A canteen, silent auction and 50-50 raffle were also held to fundraise for SAMHI, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting student athletes who suffer from mental illnesses.
“Student athletes shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed to come forward and ask for help when they need it,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said the main goal for her and other tournament organizers was to raise awareness for SAMHI.
As for support for the tournament, McLaughlin said many spectators at the inaugural tournament in 2014 came to support her family, which made for a more emotional atmosphere.
However, she said, it was more of a basketball crowd this year, so it felt more like a hoops tournament.
“We want to bring out the best of the best players and put together a tournament where people will come from all over to participate, watch and remember a stellar guy,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said her brother spent all three of his university years playing for the Acadia Axemen, but he quit during his third year after being over-recruited and deciding that his happiness went beyond sports.
“He decided there was more to life than basketball, but that didn’t take the pressure off him,” she said.
It is for that reason that the tournament’s organizers wanted to reach out to athletes aged 18 to 25.
McLaughlin said suicide is among the leading causes of death in that age group.
“It’s something that’s painfully affecting us, where we didn’t know he was suffering,” she said. “To know he had to deal with that privately because he was embarrassed by of the stigma attached to it, it has hit home.”
For McLaughlin, a UNB alumni, it was powerful to see athletes from UNB play in her brother’s memory.
“Both last year and this year, the men’s final was between UNB and my older brother’s team, which is kind of bittersweet for me,” she said.
Halifax-based sports commentator Bill McLean covered the tournament for Bell Aliant Community One’s East Coast Sports Show.
He said it was a wonderful opportunity to work with SAMHI to raise funds and awareness for mental health.
“We’ve all been touched by mental illness in one way or another,” said McLean. “It was an honour to webcast all the games to basketball fans across the country who couldn’t make it.”
McLaughlin said it was overwhelming to see the size of the crowd at the tournament.
She said she has also been taken aback by the number of people who have said they can relate to her late brother’s story.
“Having the top athletes in their respective age groups and sports saying that completely blows you away, where they never feel they’re good enough,” she said. “That’s what needs to end.”