On Friday night when the Red Deer Polytechnic Kings and Queens volleyball teams begin their games, it won’t be an ordinary matchup.
Both squads will take part in the eighth annual ACAC Make Some Noise for Mental Health (MSN) campaign.
This year’s theme is ‘Strength in Unity’ and will have all 17 schools in the ACAC take part in the cause.
During the campaign, member ACAC schools will host MSN-dedicated gameday events to promote mental health awareness.
Once the campaign is over the judges will determine which two schools made the biggest impact and the ACAC members selected will receive $1,500 and $1,000 contributions from RBC to their on-campus mental health resource centers. The campaign first began in 2015 and has been held yearly since then.
At Red Deer Polytechnic the Kings and Queens volleyball teams have dedicated their games against Ambrose University on Friday in support of MSN. The Queens will begin at 6 p.m. followed by the Kings at 8 p.m.
Fourth-year libero for the Kings Jonathan Graham said being able to take part in the game means a lot.
“Growing up in Red Deer when you’re younger those [Kings’ volleyball] players are legends to you and being able to be a part of that program and hopefully having some impact in a positive direction for the program means a lot,” he explained.
Graham, who has had mental health struggles in the past, said it’s been on and off for him but something he has to deal with every day. Having his teammates to lean on has been a big help in his journey.
“Being a part of Kings’ volleyball is not just volleyball it’s a big friend group and a brotherhood. You can lean on 16 guys any day and they all got your back. That’s something that goes a long way,” he added.
Graham said a big reason why he wants to be a part of the team and why he’ll never leave the program is how close the team is. The support they provide each other every day is bigger than the game. He’s even had teammates come to him for help.
“We have bad days and good days and we lean on each other. It’s always good to have their backs and it’s something that without teammates it would make it a lot harder,” Graham said.
There’s often a stigma around asking for help and Graham said often some of the best athletes are considered fine when that’s not always the case.
“When you get older you start to realize that all those players struggle just as much as you did growing up. It’s not about how good you are at volleyball or how good you are at life everybody struggles with it,” Graham said.
“I think we just keep raising awareness and just recognizing and accepting it’s OK to struggle with mental health. It doesn’t have to be a negative thing it can be a positive thing when you reach out.”
Queens’ outside hitter Jaiden Ferguson playing volleyball has been a nice escape and being a part of the team has brought her a sense of community.
“There’s always someone you can rely on or talk to including the coaches,” she said.
This has been important for Ferguson who took off a semester in her second year because of mental health issues. She stopped going to classes, and practicing, and took some time away following the season being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just took that break, went into counseling, and I thought it really helped,” she added. “Just taking a nice long break preparing myself for the next time I came back.”
Ferguson is very open with her experiences and in turn, her teammates have opened themselves up to her.
“The more open you are about it the more normalized it gets,” she said.