SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — Salem volleyball is off to its best start in years. Led by a group of six seniors, the Spartans hope to make a statement in the River Ridge District this season.
But one of those seniors wants to make sure her teammates are having their mental health needs met as well and is raising awareness on the topic on and off the court.
“Over the years, I have completely fallen in love with the sport because not only of the people but with this sport, it’s so competitive and fast and just really relies on communication and teamwork which are things that I really love about the sport,” senior outside hitter Reese Redford said.
Redford has been an athlete for as long as she can remember. First playing lacrosse in the second grade before picking up volleyball five years later, the Salem senior knows all about the highs and the lows of competition.
“My favorite part is just coming together as a team after really great plays,” Redford said. “It’s not easy. Especially in volleyball. It’s a game of mistakes at times. Everyone messes up, that’s how you get to 25 but ultimately you come together and you support each other no matter what.”
Redford is taking that support to the next level by serving up the topic of mental health.
“It means a lot to me because it’s never something that I heard talked about before,” Redford said. “Even in the past few years, when I’ve struggled more with it, I felt like it was something I had to keep to myself.”
Seeking change and inspired by tragedy, Redford is starting a chapter of Morgan’s Message.
“Morgan’s message is a nonprofit organization that was founded by Morgan’s family and friends after she passed from suicide,” Redford explains. “She was a Duke lacrosse player.”
As a student-athlete, Morgan Rodgers struggled with anxiety and depression. She eventually took her own life at the age of 22.
Three years later, the legacy of the Northern Virginia athlete lives on in Southwest Virginia, thanks to Redford.
“It is an organization that is going to be run here by and for athletes, Redford said. “So we’re all going to come together and support each other and really let each other know that it’s ok to not be okay.”
And her teammates are already supporting Reese’s initiative, working together toward shattering the stigma of mental health.
“Reese is such a great leader and a great teammate. We’re really thankful that she brought Morgan’s message to us and she’s a really easy person to go and talk to,” senior middle blocker Mia Esworthy said. “This is really the perfect thing for her to do. It’s so Reese!”
Salem plans on dedicating their upcoming home match on Sept. 13 against Hidden Valley to Morgan’s Message and raising awareness on mental health.
“It’s been amazing. Right from the moment I brought it up, my teammates supported me immediately. Asked to be involved, wanted to take on leadership roles, and just really supported me overall,” Redford said.
“I knew that bringing it here would really just help our teammates and friends and peers feel like they’re needed and accepted and really loved.”