The Minutewomen wear green scrunchies and armbands in the game against Davidson
Streamers and signs decorated the fence around Rudd Field for the Massachusetts women’s soccer team’s game against Davidson, where UMass partnered with Hidden Opponent, a nonprofit focused on advancing the mental health of student athletes.
Hidden Opponent was founded in 2019 by Victoria Garrick, a former University of Southern California Division I volleyball player. After struggling through anxiety and depression herself, Garrick wanted to create a space that was safe for all student-athletes.
With green ribbons in their hair and green ribbons on their arms, the Minutewomen lined up in midfield, along with the officials and the Wildcats, for a pre-game minute’s silence in honor of all those lost to mental health issues. After that, it was Bella Mendoza at the net, which was fitting given the junior goaltender is a campus ambassador for Hidden Opponent.
“It’s just an organization that strives to break the stigma surrounding student and athlete mental health and raise awareness that it’s a real thing,” Mendoza said. “I think it’s important that we had a game to address the issue.”
Mendoza went through her own mental health struggles last year, struggling through what she described as “one of the lowest points of my life.”
“My best friend, she saved my life. And I think that sparked something in me to make a change and take the next step to get involved in any way I can,” Mendoza said.
The best friend in question: Lauren Bonavita. Along with the rest of the Minutewomen, she helped make posters that lined the fence for Sunday’s game.
“It meant so much to me,” Mendoza said. “It’s very heartwarming to know that everyone cares so much and that everyone takes it seriously and there are so many people, not just on our team but also in the athletic department who care so much and think, that it’s something that needs to be talked about.”
As a campus ambassador, Mendoza will be joined by Abby Packard, a softball player, and Andrew Chabon, a former track and field athlete. This was the first event for Hidden Opponent this year at UMass, but they are hoping to have more at football, hockey and basketball games.
“We did mental health training,” Packard said. “We’re building our campus right now, but it’s currently in all 50 states and at a lot of universities.”
With over 800 campus ambassadors across the United States this year at colleges and high schools, Hidden Opponent continues to grow.
“Realistically, it’s not just student athletes, everyone’s mental health is important,” Chabon said. “But we understand that athletes are often perceived as these kinds of higher-level role models, have different standards, and aren’t able to have the same level of vulnerability that ‘normal’ people have.”
The main message Hidden Opponent tries to convey is that every human being and especially student athletes are not alone.
“We talk about it a lot and encourage those kinds of conversations,” said head coach Jason Dowiak. “It’s a big problem and something that’s quite scary because we see too many situations happen where people don’t feel like life is the best option for them. So we’re just trying to raise awareness and move the conversation in a direction where more student-athletes have the confidence and comfort to talk about how they’re feeling.”
Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed @SophieeWellerr on Twitter.